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St Johnstone 0-1 Rangers: Saints show the sort of fight that will serve them well in their relegation battle

Calvin Bassey and Tom Sang in action.
Calvin Bassey and Tom Sang in action.

You wouldn’t go so far as to call it a moral victory.

And the gap to the bottom of the league has been cut to one point by Dundee.

But this was more like it for St Johnstone.

Saints have now played 900 Premiership matches and 71 have been against Rangers.

In plenty of those 71 down the years, Perth sides have been sunk by losing an early goal to the Glasgow giants and gone on to lose heavily.

Not on this occasion, though.

Callum Davidson’s men showed the sort of fight, aggression and, at times, quality that was missing from their second half performance against Ross County on Saturday.

And it was the champions who were grateful to hear the full-time whistle.

Davidson will take his chances with displays like this for the rest of their relegation battle.

There were two changes to the Saints team from the weekend defeat in the Highlands.

Nadir Ciftci replaced Glenn Middleton, who couldn’t play against his parent club, and James Brown was drafted in for Dan Cleary.

It was the first time Cleary has been left out of a starting line-up since arriving from Dundalk.

The new look backline didn’t cover itself in glory when Saints were opened up and a goal down just three minutes into the game.

One pass, albeit a very clever one from Alfredo Morelos, was all it took to put Glen Kamara in the clear and he gave Elliott Parish no chance with his side-foot finish.

Callum Hendry has been the star turn for Saints of late and it was his attacking endeavour that earned the hosts their first corner of the evening.

He then rose highest to make a back post header from the set-piece but was penalised by referee Willie Collum for climbing on the back of his marker.

The Perth side have been rightly criticised all too often for their response to going a goal behind but there was nothing wrong with it in the aftermath of the Kamara opener.

Ciftci won another corner and Jamie McCart should have done better with a free shot at goal that resulted from it.

There was something worryingly familiar about the way in which no pressure was put on Morelos at the other end, mind you.

And, with Parish beaten low at his near post by the fiercely struck shot, only the post kept the score at 1-0.

Pressing much better

Saints’ pressing on Saturday was nowhere near the required standard however the intensity was noticeably a couple of levels higher in this contest.

That was summed up by Ali Crawford – not renowned for his off the ball work – almost robbing John Lundstram in the Rangers penalty box.

Saints’ pass and move football was getting better as well actually.

At the end of a nice spell of play four minutes before the break, Jacob Butterfield forced a save out of Allan McGregor with a shot from the edge of the box.

It was Rangers who started the second half stronger, though.

Seven minutes after the restart Liam Gordon and Brown allowed a ball over the top to drop in between them and Parish had to make a good save to keep out Joe Aribo’s first-time shot.

Just before the hour it was McCart’s turn to not deal with Aribo properly – putting in a weak tackle 25 yards from goal.

The punishment really should have been a second Rangers goal after the ball was moved on to Scott Arfield but he dragged his shot wide.

The visitors momentarily thought they had they had number two when Connor Goldson headed home an inswinging James Tavernier free-kick.

It was chalked off for offside, though.

Short header back

Saints weren’t seeing much of the ball but they nearly got gifted an equaliser when Tavernier was short with a header back to his keeper and Crawford beat McGregor to it.

Unfortunately Crawford couldn’t retain possession and Rangers were able to snuff out the danger.

Anxiety was spreading amongst the away fans as the clock ticked down given their recent slip-ups and Davidson made several attacking substitutions but a chance for an equaliser couldn’t be carved out and 1-0 it finished.

St Johnstone hit 900: 10 facts and figures as Perth side reach top flight match milestone against Rangers

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