St Mirren 0 Rangers 1
Rangers took another step towards clinching second place in the Bank of Scotland Premier League with a win over St Mirren – and denied Celtic the championship for another couple of weeks.
Nacho Novo netted the only goal of the game at Love Street to secure a 1-0 victory which allowed Gers to move eight points clear of nearest rivals Aberdeen.
The result was bad news for Saints, though, who are just four points ahead of SPL basement boys Dunfermline with five games to go.
Rangers manager Walter Smith made two changes following their lacklustre display against Inverness Caledonian Thistle last week, when they were held to a 1-1 draw by the Highlanders.
Chris Burke and Ugo Ehiogu were drafted into the starting line-up, with Dado Prso named on the bench following a couple of hard shifts, while Ian Murray was missing from the 18-man squad.
Saints boss Gus MacPherson made just one change from the side who earned a last-gasp draw with Hibernian in midweek; goal hero John Sutton replaced the injured Craig Molloy.
MacPherson also stuck to his guns by naming Kirk Broadfoot in the first XI, even though the Saints skipper has pledged his future to Rangers by signing a pre-contract agreement.
Four minutes into the game, the Buddies boss may have been wishing he had followed the example of Motherwell manager Maurice Malpas, who dropped Parkhead-bound Scott McDonald for their game against Celtic yesterday.
A Charlie Adam ball into the box to Kris Boyd in front of goal should have been easily dealt with by Chris Smith.
Instead, the Saints goalkeeper was bundled to the ground by Broadfoot’s own clumsy attempts to clear the danger, allowing Novo to pounce on the ball and bullet home from 10 yards.
At the other end, the Paisley club could have been back on level terms within minutes but for the quick reflexes of Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
Richard Brittain’s free-kick picked out Ian Maxwell and his low header looked goalbound only for McGregor to paw the ball to safety at the last second.
It was to be Maxwell’s last involvement in the match and he limped out of the action clutching his hamstring after just 17 minutes, his place taken by Eddie Malone.
Broadfoot was doing little to endear himself to either set of supporters and another blunder almost gifted Rangers their second of the day.
This time his poor attempt at a passback was seized upon by Boyd, who intercepted only to squander the chance by firing well over the crossbar.
Broadfoot – and Saints – breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Instead of crumbling, it was the Paisley club who finished the first half in the ascendancy and they could have snatched the leveller on the whistle.
A full-stretch McGregor just managed to keep an Alan Reid free-kick out of the net, before being called into action to block Hugh Murray’s rebound at the near post.
Saints started the second half strongly and Stewart Kean was not too far away when he threw himself in front of a Reid cross only for his overhead kick to fall just wide of the target.
The striker then had another crack at goal when Broadfoot teed up the shot 20 yards out but, once again, his effort whistled past the post.
Kean may have failed to add his name to the scoresheet but Broadfoot had clearly redeemed himself in the eyes of the Saints supporters, who chanted ’You’re too good for Rangers.’
The home fans were briefly silenced when Boyd rattled home a close-range volley - but the Gers hitman was well offside and the flag was already raised.
With just over an hour gone, Saints swapped Brittain for Mark Corcoran, while Burke was withdrawn for Prso in the hope he could spur a lethargic Gers side into life again.
Corcoran was not long on the park when he picked up the first booking of the game for an outrageous dive in the box with no blue shirts anywhere near him.
Undeterred, Saints battled on in search of the equaliser that could make all the difference to their SPL survival this season but dogged defending denied them the goal they probably deserved.
In the end, they failed where Inverness succeeded last week and Rangers held on for a narrow and unconvincing win.