DAVID SMITH - Sunday, January 15, 2012
The battle for the Scottish Premier League title remained close over the weekend, with both Rangers and Celtic both pulling out wins, although not without some nervous moments.
FC St. Johnstone 1 - 2 Glasgow Rangers
A Carlos Bocanegra own-goal nearly cost Rangers points on Saturday, however a pair of scores by in-demand striker Nikica Jelavic kept the team within shooting distance of the league lead.
Alejandro Bedoya was included on Ally McCoist's bench, however the US international was not amongst either of the two substitutes called into action by the first-year head coach.
Fellow US international Maurice Edu played the full 90 minutes in midfield, and was shown a yellow card late in the second half for a hard foul on Jody Morris.
Rangers had shown their vulnerability in recent weeks, and came into the game looking to end a rare two-game road losing streak.
Rangers target Francisco Sandaza provided the first moment of excitement of the game, darting through a trio of defenders before dropping the ball off to Marcus Haber for a blast into goal in the 13th minute. However, much to the visitors' relief, the Canadian international was ruled offside.
The defending champions then took the lead midway through the half, as Sone Aluko collected a quickly-taken free kick from Steven Davis and found space to put a shot on target. Saints keeper Peter Enckelman managed to block the initial shot, however Jelavic was in place to poke it over the line for the lead.
The Saints players protested heavily, having felt the set piece was taken too far from the original foul, however the referee had little mercy and only awarded Jody Morris for his excessive arguments.
Rangers were denied on several occasions, and were forced to rue their profligacy in the 67th minute when an attempted header by Haber bounced off of Bocanegra's chest and over the line for equalizer.
With the game looking headed to another disappointing road result for McCoist's squad, they were fortunate to be practically handed the winner nine minutes from full time. Aluko's free kick was headed by Saints defender Murray Davidson off of his own crossbar, and landed at the foot of Jelavic for the easy tap-in to take all three points for his team.
With Celtic having also won in weekend play, Rangers still remain two points behind their arch-rivals in the race for the league title. They will return home to host ninth-place Aberdeen on Saturday.
Dominic Cervi was a spectator on Saturday as Celtic held off Dundee United in a 2-1 home win.