This was framed as a contest between rhythm and rest. As smooth transition from pre-season into Premiership versus stop-start in both.
One team had seven games in their legs and lungs, while the other had three.
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson wouldn’t tolerate a hint of defeatism in the build-up to last night’s encounter but he would have known that the odds were stacked against his young team.
Not only were Rangers two out of two in the league, having not conceded a goal and not been pushed by either Aberdeen or St Mirren, the coronavirus call-offs have presented them with the incentive of opening up an 11-point gap on Celtic before their title rivals are next allowed to play.
Yes, it’s only August but in a season that will see fixtures crammed in further down the track, that would be a significant development at the top of the table.
The end result was probably predictable but this was no mismatch.
In fact, for the first 20 minutes, the star-studded Light Blues were being asked questions they were struggling to come up with an answer to – beating an aggressive press and finding spaces through an energetic and tactically switched-on opposition.
This is the first of four matches in 11 days – Covid-19 good behaviour from others permitting – for the McDiarmid Park side. Although a couple of defensive lapses either side of half-time will frustrate Davidson greatly, he’ll have seen a lot of good aspects in this performance that make building some momentum of their own in the next couple of weeks a realistic possibility.
You could have been mistaken for thinking Saints were the team coming off a 3-0 win on Sunday and Rangers were the side without a game since the previous Saturday in the early stages.
The tempo the visitors set was hugely encouraging. And there was plenty of control and invention to go with it.
The big ‘if only’ moment came just five minutes in.
David Wotherspoon threaded a ball forward for Callum Hendry who took Leon Balogun one way and then the other before drilling a low right foot shot that Jon McLaughlin did well to keep out.
Make no mistake, Saints were the better team then and for 15 minutes afterwards.
It was a sign of Rangers’ frustrations that the closest they came in that period was a speculative effort from Ryan Kent that soared over Elliott Parish’s crossbar.
But at Ibrox, fans or no fans, parity and even dominance counts for little.
Wotherspoon conceded a free-kick around 22 yards from goal when he brought down Alfredo Morelos, who had been kept very quiet by the Saints’ centre-halves up to that point.
Assistant manager Steven MacLean was shouting at the men in yellow to be alive to the second ball but he needn’t have bothered. Boran Barisic’s left foot curler beat Parish and it was 1-0 to Rangers.
Saints were the side struggling to get out of their half in any meaningful way for a while after that opening goal.
Morelos had a shot that missed the target on 29 minutes and Kent drilled a dangerous ball across the face of goal that evaded strikers and defenders alike.
Saints continued to try and play their way out from the back rather than send long, hopeful balls up the pitch and they nearly got their reward when Danny McNamara picked out Craig Conway on the half-way line and he shrugged off Glen Kamara, turned and drove all the way into the box.
Unfortunately he was ushered wide and by the time the former Dundee United winger got a shot away, the angle was too acute and it lacked the power to worry McLaughlin.
With a goal just before half-time and a goal just after it, the result was put beyond doubt.
In the last few seconds of the first 45 Kent wasn’t marked tightly enough near the penalty spot and he gave Parish no chance when Barisic picked him out with a cut-back from the left.
Then, four minutes into the second period Rangers had their third – a near post Joe Aribo header from an inswinging corner.
By around the hour mark Rangers had made all their substitutions – a sign that Steven Gerrard knew the job was done.
Davidson didn’t have a full bench to call upon but Tanto Olaofe and Shaun Rooney got their first action for their new club in place of Conway and Liam Craig.
Olaofe had a chance to use his pace to good effect when he was released on a rare counter-attack but just as it looked as if he had pulled away from Filip Helander, out came a long leg to block the on-loan Millwall youngster’s shot.
He was certainly getting himself involved and, with 10 minutes left, had a powerful header well saved by McLaughlin.
At the other end Parish made an even better block – with his feet – to deny Kemar Roofe a debut goal.
Match sharpness – in mind more than body – was the decisive factor last night but Saints won’t be handicapped by that from now on. The first win of the season shouldn’t be far away.