Pressure eased on Michael Beale as Rangers hollowed out a 2-0 Premiership win over St Johnstone but the Ibrox side again failed to hit the heights.
The Rangers manager was under intense scrutiny after defeats to Celtic and PSV Eindhoven before the international break. The Brazilian striker Danilo headed the Light Blues ahead after 16 minutes at McDiarmid Park but had to be substituted after sustaining a head knock in its execution. The substitute Rabbi Matondo added a second in the 79th minute but it was another unconvincing Rangers performance against a side who are still looking for their first league win.
Rangers begin their Europa League campaign with a home game against Real Betis on Thursday night – albeit without Danilo, who Beale later confirmed had fractured a cheekbone – and again the Light Blues manager and his players will be under scrutiny but the victory in Perth was crucial to offer some respite.
Accused of still not yet knowing his best team, Beale made six changes with Ben Davies, Ridvan Yilmaz, John Lundstram, Tom Lawrence, Sam Lammers and Danilo back in the side. Lawrence was making his first start in over a year after recovering from a serious knee injury while Davies made his first appearance of the season. The Saints manager, Steven MacLean, gave Chris Kane his first start since January 2022 and the striker was one of four changes with the captain, Liam Gordon, also coming in, along with Oludare Olufunwa and Max Kucheriavyi.
It was a far from impressive start by the visitors but they took the lead following a break from a St Johnstone corner. James Tavernier, the captain, took a pass from Nicolas Raskin, played a one-two with Lammers and went past Graham Carey with ease before crossing for Danilo to head past keeper Dimitar Mitov from six yards. Danilo cracked heads with Gordon in the aerial joust and both had to go off with Abdallah Sima and Sam McClelland respectively coming on. The goal relaxed the Govan side a little.
In the 24th minute Sima burst into the St Johnstone box but opted to drive straight at Mitov from an angle with Lammers and Kemar Roofe waiting to tap in. Mitov saved Sima’s drive from distance before the break but Rangers looked ropey at the start of the second half.
A short pass-back by Davies to Jack Butland saw Kane nip in before it got to the keeper and he tumbled to the ground but the referee, Nick Walsh, ignored penalty claims and the VAR, Gavin Duncan, did not ask him to have a look. Kane went sprawling again after being involved with Lawrence inside the box at a St Johnstone corner moments later and again a VAR check brought no joy for the home side. Rangers still could not get into a flow.
In the 63rd minute Roofe had the ball in the net from a Sima cutback but the goal was ruled out for an infringement. MacLean was then booked at the touchline after complaining that the referee had stopped play for a foul for St Johnstone when his side were ready to break. Lawrence had a decent drive saved by Mitov before Matondo, on for Lammers, raced on to a Lawrence pass and slipped the ball past Mitov to seal three points.
The St Johnstone substitute Cammy MacPherson headed a Carey cross past a post from six yards but the Govan side cruised the final stages although, ultimately, it was another Rangers performance that left more questions than answers.