Match ends, Rangers 2, Aberdeen 1.
Rangers level with Celtic but ‘not thinking’ about title6 February 2024
Rangers are "not thinking" about the title race, says Phillipe Clement, despite his side moving level on points with Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic by beating Aberdeen in Neil Warnock's first game in charge.
Much of the pre-match talk revolved around the veteran manager's arrival in Scotland, but that noise was soon silenced when Rabbi Matondo fired home after goalkeeper Kelle Roos spilled the ball into his path.
As they pushed forward in search of the three-goal victory that would have moved them top of the table, Rangers were left stunned as a long ball was finished off brilliantly by Bojan Miovski.
The home crowd grew restless as chances came and went, but another rebound from a Roos save - this time tucked away by Todd Cantwell - was enough to claw back a gap to Celtic that looked overwhelming before Clement's arrival.
A late red card for Dujon Sterling - upheld by referee Don Robertson after a VAR review - gave Aberdeen late hope, but Warnock suffered a rare defeat in a first game in charge of a new club.
"Going to 10 players was another thing that went against us and you need to stick together," Clement said.
"It is a massive thing to win games like this. These are normally the ones where you lose points. If we keep winning games like that, it is good for the rest of the season. We are taking it game by game.
"I believe this team can go a really long way if they stick together and there are no egos. We are still fighting for three competitions."
The electricity of an Ibrox crowd desperate for their side to move top of the table seeped onto the pitch as Rangers' intensity overwhelmed Aberdeen early on.
The opening goal seemed just a matter of time, and came when Matondo punished Roos' careless error.
James Tavernier then failed to finish off a slick move, before Matondo burst through the backline, waiting so long to pull the trigger in a moment of indecision that it felt longer than Warnock's 44-year managerial career.
Despite the domination, Aberdeen know they have a striker capable of conjuring something from nothing. And so it proved. Miovski fended off Connor Goldson and dinked his 20th goal of the season past Jack Butland.
Roos went some way to atoning for his early error as he stood tall to twice deny Cyriel Dessers, with the second stop an excellent reaction save with his right boot.
But the Dutchman would again be left to rue a parried save as Tom Lawrence's arrowed strike was only diverted towards Cantwell, who soaked up the adulation of the home crowd for the second time in four days.
In his 1627th game in the dugout, Warnock's first career encounter with VAR proved eventful as referee Robertson chose to stick with his decision to send off Sterling after the substitute slid in on Jack MacKenzie.
The visitors could have nicked it after a late melee in the box required a sprawling save from Butland, while Fabio Silva was inches away from sealing the game with a dragged shot across goal.
Some of the home crowd will have filtered out of Ibrox with a tinge of disappointment at not hitting the front in the title race, but given how far they were behind when Clement took over, pulling level was enough to spark celebrations.
Player of the match - Todd Cantwell (Rangers)Todd Cantwell was brought to Ibrox to win his side games. After a stuttering start, the Englishman is beginning to show his quality as he proved the difference in chaotic encounter
Rangers make statement as Warnock gets glimpse - analysis
Despite the fine margin of the victory, this was a showing of Rangers' title credentials.
Their blistering start blew Aberdeen away. At times, Clement's side have laboured to victories in front of their home crowd, requiring patience and persistence.
That caution was flung out the window as they charged out onto the turf with the kind of intensity that showed they were out to make a statement.
The boundless energy of John Lundstram piled the pressure on, while the forward players showed more incision on a night when anything other than three points would have punctured the momentum that has built under Clement.
Having lost just once since the Belgian's arrival, they are now neck and neck with a Celtic side that once threatened to pull away into the distance.
But it wasn't smooth sailing. Aberdeen recovered from the early storm and began to show the resilience and fight Warnock will demand of his new charges.
The new boss has worked with some fine frontmen in his long career, but in Miovski he has a wonderful striker. The way he held off Goldson was almost as beautiful as the deft finish to equalise.
A gutsy display in imposing conditions, Warnock has a foundation to build on as he looks to restore the club's European ambitions.
What they said
Rangers manager Philippe Clement: "They had one good opportunity just before half time that was a goal. A moment like that a few months ago would have created some tension in the heads of the team, some doubts in the fans also.
"That is not the case anymore. They know on the pitch that we are close to the three points if we keep doing what we have been doing."
Interim Aberdeen manager Neil Warnock: "I thought the application was excellent. To go a goal down early on, a lot of teams might have crumbled but I thought we hung in there.
"I thought we grew into the game, to get the goal like we did was a real plus. I felt we were rushing a bit, playing the occasion and not calming down, but I thought we did that as the game moved on."
Rangers host former Celtic captain Scott Brown's Ayr United in the Scottish Cup on Saturday (17:30 GMT), while Aberdeen welcome League 2 Bonnyrigg Rose earlier in the day (15:00).
- 11LawrenceSubstituted forSterlingat 75'minutesBooked at 88mins
- 13CantwellSubstituted forDiomandeat 85'minutes
- 17MatondoSubstituted forCortésat 56'minutes
- 9DessersSubstituted forFábio Silvaat 57'minutes
- 7Fábio Silva
- 7McGrathSubstituted forHenriques de Barros Lopesat 76'minutesBooked at 82mins
- 8BarronSubstituted forMorrisat 90+1'minutes
- 17HayesSubstituted forPolvaraat 69'minutesBooked at 90mins
- 10ClarksonSubstituted forPhillipsat 76'minutes
- 11Henriques de Barros Lopes
- Don Robertson
Second Half ends, Rangers 2, Aberdeen 1.