Two James Tavernier penalties gave Rangers victory over Aberdeen to again delay Celtic’s Scottish Premiership title celebrations.
Andrew Considine was sent off for the visitors as Steven Gerrard’s side ensured they will finish in the top two for the first time since 2012.
Tavernier scored his first spot-kick after Lewis Ferguson was adjudged to have fouled Nikola Katic. Later, after Considine received a second yellow card for an elbow on Katic, Tavernier took his penalty tally to 14 for the season.
Aberdeen were unhappy with a number of refereeing decisions, with Jermain Defoe escaping any action for leading with his arm in a challenge with goalkeeper Joe Lewis in the first half.
Rangers’ win – their first in four attempts against Aberdeen in Glasgow this season – moves the Ibrox side back to nine points behind Celtic with three games to go.
The result also means Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen will not finish second for the first time in five seasons.
Aberdeen left frustrated by decisions
Rangers defender Jon Flanagan had branded Aberdeen a long-ball team in the build-up. And, devoid of width due to injuries, and with their only winger Connor McLennan hobbling off early in the game, Aberdeen were in little mood to prove him wrong.
With three forwards on the park they had plenty to aim at, but they were struggling to make their mark up front. James Wilson cut inside two players and fired low at Allan McGregor, but that was a rare chance in a first half were the Pittodrie side were forced to batten down the hatches.
Liverpool’s on-loan midfielder Ryan Kent swivelled and shot wide for Rangers, before Defoe forced a good save from Lewis. Conor Goldson beat Scott McKenna to a cross and headed over. Tavernier and Steven Davis had shots charged down by an inspired Lewis.
There was controversy when the Englishman collected a long ball then appeared to be caught by Defoe, who had raised his hand as his momentum took him into the goalkeeper. Referee Don Robertson elected to take no action.
And Aberdeen were left unhappy again when Rangers were awarded their 16th penalty of the season. Katic fell to the turf, with Aberdeen’s Ferguson appearing to be fouled by Defoe moments before. The referee pointed to the spot and Tavernier sent Lewis the wrong way.
Rangers continued to dominate possession. Defoe could not keep an effort down from close range. Tavernier knocked the ball into the net but was ruled offside. Scott Arfield tried to follow up after Lewis denied Davis but could not take the ball round the grounded goalkeeper.
The second goal again arrived from the spot when Considine thrust up an arm and Katic went down holding his face. Contact looked minimal, but was enough for the referee to point to the spot and show the Aberdeen man a second yellow card. Tavernier lashed in his 14th spot-kick of a profitable campaign.
The visitors had little response, with their task until the end of the season now to fend off Kilmarnock and Hibernian in the battle for third place and a Europa League spot.
Considine red card ‘wrong decision’ – analysis
Former Rangers midfielder Neil McCann on BBC Sportsound
Clearly McInnes’ plan was to contain Rangers and then move through the gears as the game went on. But they lost the goal early in the second half and that’s when the gaps started to appear.
Aberdeen didn’t make a real solid effort. Rangers just popped the ball around and were really exceptional in terms of their movement, playing little triangular passes. I thought they looked really effective in the final third as well.
For the second penalty, Considine should not be shown a yellow card, no way. But I do think it’s a correct penalty decision because he does catch him with an arm. I’ve got more of a gripe with the first penalty, because Ferguson does make contact but there’s a hesitation from Katic – I don’t think it was the initial contact which took him down.