SPL

Rangers battle past Neil Warnock’s stubborn Aberdeen to join Celtic at top

By Sports Desk February 06, 2024

Rangers moved level on points with cinch Premiership leaders Celtic as Neil Warnock’s first game as Aberdeen boss ended with a 2-1 defeat at Ibrox.

The 75-year-old’s appointment until the end of the season had captured interest UK-wide but, in a turbo-charged start to the game by the home side, winger Rabbi Matondo capitalised on a mistake by Dons keeper Kelle Roos to give Gers the lead.

However, Dons striker Bojan Miovski levelled as the first-half entered three added minutes with his 20th goal of the season.

Rangers piled on the pressure in the second half and in the 73rd minute, when Roos palmed away a Tom Lawrence thunderbolt, Todd Cantwell followed up to finish it off.

Rangers second-half substitute Dujon Sterling was shown a straight red card by referee Don Robertson in the 88th minute for a tackle on Jack MacKenzie – the official stuck with his decision despite the VAR asking him to check his pitchside monitor – and the 10-man home side played out eight added minutes before victory was confirmed.

Rangers and Celtic are now on 58 points with the Hoops boasting a superior goal difference of just one.

Celtic play at Hibernian on Wednesday, which will again leave the Light Blues with a game in hand as the title race heats up further.

Gers boss Philippe Clement brought in John Souttar, Ridvan Yilmaz, Lawrence and Cyriel Dessers with Mohamed Diomande, the 22-year-old midfielder signed on a loan from Nordsjaelland with an obligation for the Light Blues to buy, on the bench.

Warnock’s first team selection showed two changes from the side which started in the draw against Celtic at weekend with Jonny Hayes and Leighton Clarkson in for Dante Polvara and Killian Phillips.

The home supporters were up for the game and soon had something to cheer with a goal initiated by Matondo’s pass to Cantwell.

The Gers player moved the ball on to winger Ross McCausland whose low drive from the edge of the box seemed to lack real power to trouble Roos but he spilled the shot to the on-rushing Matondo who blasted it into the net from close range.

It was mostly all Rangers.

Matondo hesitated before getting a shot away after he had carved open the Aberdeen defence and his effort was blocked for a corner which Lawrence headed over.

Rangers appeared in control but when midfielder Connor Barron lobbed the ball forward it caught the Light Blues napping and Miovski fended off defender Connor Goldson and slipped the ball past Butland with assurance.

The goal turned the Ibrox crowd into critics and there was a different feel to the start of the second half.

Roos made saves from Matondo and Dessers but the flag was up for offside. That was enough for Clement.

Matondo made way for new boy Oscar Cortes, the Colombian winger on loan from Lens, with Fabio Silva replacing Dessers.

Aberdeen were pinned back in their own half but a well-organised and determined defence kept an increasingly frantic Rangers at bay.

The Dons repelled a series of corners with Roos blocking a Lawrence shot with his foot following one of Yilmaz’s deliveries.

However, Lawrence’s next effort from distance was venomous and although the Pittodrie keeper made a decent save, the ball fell to Cantwell who slid the ball back into the net for his fifth goal in eight games.

Amid more substitutions, Diomande replaced Cantwell in the 85th minute to make his debut and took part in a frantic finale where Sterling, on for Lawrence, was dismissed with referee Robertson asked to check his pitchside monitor by the VAR only to stick to his guns.

It was quite an introduction to Scottish football for Warnock but Rangers continue their chase of Celtic.

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