sport news Rangers 2-0 Ross County: Steven Gerrard's side stay top of the Scottish ...

Steven Gerrard's warning had been clear. Amid the dressing-room celebrations that followed last Thursday evening's win over Galatasaray, the Rangers manager bluntly emphasised the over-riding priority for this season.

Europa League qualification was worthy and valuable, for sure. But domestic trophy success come May was what truly mattered. There could be no excuse for bumping back to earth in the Premiership. Games such as this one simply had to be won. By whatever means necessary.

It was achieved thanks in no small part to the reliability of captain James Tavernier. One of those setting standards in this campaign, the right-back's first-half penalty made it eight goals in his last eight games - four of them from the spot.

James Tavernier's first-half penalty set Rangers on their way to victory against Ross County

James Tavernier's first-half penalty set Rangers on their way to victory against Ross County

Steven Gerrard's side stay ahead of Celtic, though his team have played a game more

Steven Gerrard's side stay ahead of Celtic, though his team have played a game more 

That provided a platform to lift Rangers back to the top of the Premiership, a point clear of Celtic having played a game more. The challenge set down by the identical scoreline at McDiarmid Park was ultimately answered. And, just like their title rivals, this was a victory claimed while some way short of peak form.

Grinding these games out might be an essential facet of any successful championship challenge, but that doesn't mean Gerrard would have enjoyed the tension felt as the minutes ticked down.

Chances to wrap it up sooner had been wasted - with Alfredo Morelos culpable - meaning an almighty sigh of relief was breathed when Coll Donaldson headed a golden 80th minute opportunity for County too high.

It was substitute Brandon Barker who finally made safe a fourth straight win for the Ibrox men. A fine 88th minute effort marked his 24th birthday and was just a second goal for Rangers since joining from Manchester City last season.

The international break now intervenes before that eagerly awaited first Old Firm game of the season at Parkhead on October 17. Slipping up beforehand would have been a significant psychological blow, so there will be some satisfaction for the Ibrox side in simply ticking this one off.

County showed determination and organisation but now have just one win in their last eight outings. While he couldn't complain about the outcome on the balance of play, Stuart Kettlewell can only wonder how Rangers might have reacted had Donaldson - penalised earlier for the spot-kick -managed to hit the target.

Changes were inevitable in Gerrard's line-up were inevitable after the effort invested against Galatasaray. He made four of them.

Allan McGregor, Filip Helander, Steven Davis and Ianis Hagi all dropped out of the starting line-up, with Jon McLaughlin, Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack and Jordan Jones drafted in.

Brandon Barker's 88th minute goal sealed the victory at Ibrox on Sunday afternoon

Brandon Barker's 88th minute goal sealed the victory at Ibrox on Sunday afternoon

Jack had been introduced as a late substitute in midweek after recovering from a calf injury, but displayed a tinge of rust when robbed of possession in the second minute.

County sprang forward, with Ross Stewart feeding it wide right to wing-back Regan Charles-Cook. His fizzed, low cross was enticing, but no visiting player was able to able to take up the offer as it sped through McLaughlin's line of vision.

Charles-Cook was one of three players introduced by Kettlewell in response to a 3-0 defeat from Aberdeen seven days previously. They were also housed

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