Alfredo Morelos was sent off for the third time against Aberdeen this season as Rangers emerged victorious in a tempestuous contest to edge ahead of their Scottish Premiership rivals.
Steven Gerrard’s side stay six points behind leaders Celtic after a Morelos brace, James Tavernier’s penalty and a Jermain Defoe strike earned the points.
Morelos and Scott McKenna, who were involved in an incident in the first game of the season, were both shown red cards after appearing to aim kicks at each other in a challenge.
At that stage, the scoreline was 3-2 after Sam Cosgrove scored his second of the game from the penalty spot but, as Aberdeen searched for a leveller, Defoe secured Rangers’ win.
The victory moves the Ibrox side five points ahead of Aberdeen, who remain third.
Morelos & Kent torment Aberdeen
The three previous meetings between these foes this season had been dominated by Rangers, but Aberdeen emerged victorious in two of them – both 1-0 – and drew the other. There had been red cards in each of those league meetings too – two of them for Morelos and another for Cosgrove, the Premiership’s two goalscorers.
All the signs suggested this was going to be a tight, thunderous affair, and so it proved.
Ryan Kent has been in superb form for Rangers and had a hand in both the striker’s goals. First, the on-loan Liverpool forward slalomed his way past Shay Logan and into the Aberdeen box before unleashing a venomous shot which Joe Lewis could only parry into the path of Morelos, who rolled into the net.
Not to be outdone, Cosgrove showed he too is adept at the art of poaching, tapping home after the ball ricocheted off Tavernier and Connor Goldson following Lewis Ferguson’s fizzing volley.
Rangers had only lost one game in the 16 they had taken the lead this season, and just seven minutes later they were back in front. Kent drove at the Aberdeen defence and slid a pass to Morelos who, on his left foot, shaped a sublime finish past McKenna and Lewis and low into the net for his 23rd goal this term.
The Pittodrie crowd had barely settled again before Rangers were awarded their fifth penalty in two games. McKenna thrust up a hand to claim for something and Tavernier’s free-kick struck it, clear as day. The Rangers captain stepped up and dispatched the spot-kick, his third successful conversion of the week, and Rangers had daylight.
Rangers emerge from the chaos
The madness only paused fleetingly, before ensuing again as, a minute after the restart, the hosts were given a lifeline. Tavernier hauled down Ferguson and Cosgrove fired the penalty straight down the middle and past Allan McGregor.
It was truly breathless stuff, punishing to even watch. Morelos had a glorious chance for his hat trick, but when clean through he hit straight at Lewis. He had been unplayable all night. But then came the other side of the Colombian, the ill-disciplined, tempestuous side.
A ball was lumped forward and in typically boisterous fashion, Morelos hared after it to make sure McKenna had no easy way out. But as the two tussled for the ball, the Aberdeen defender fell and Morelos lashed out at him – as he had done in the opening match of the season at Pittodrie. But McKenna was no innocent as he too looked to jab a foot at the Rangers striker as he tumbled to the ground.
Referee Bobby Madden took his time, gathered his thoughts and decided both deserved to be dismissed.
Amid the chaos, Rangers still held a slender advantage and Aberdeen pressed for the equaliser. Substitute James Wilson, Stewart and Gary Mackay-Steven all came close, McGregor instinctively pushing Stewart’s shot clear as it flew through a ruck of bodies.
But try as they might, the necessary quality evaded the hosts, and eventually Defoe slammed home after a swift break to ensure Rangers clinched the points an enthralling encounter.