Aberdeen relinquished second spot to Rangers at Ibrox last night in a game where injury to Joe Lewis added insult to a third defeat to the Gers this season.
Lewis was carried off after conceding a penalty 15 minutes from time as the Dons slipped to a 2-0 defeat in Govan and while disappointed with the loss manager Derek McInnes’ concern at full-time centred on the severity of his goal- keeper’s injury.
Dons boss McInnes made one change to the side which beat St Mirren 4-1 in the Scottish Cup on Saturday with Scott McKenna, who missed the game due to suspension, returning in central defence in place of Mark Reynolds who dropped to the bench.
Rangers included new loan signings Russell Martin, Jamie Murphy and Sean Goss in their starting line-up with Jason Cummings named on the bench. Andy Halliday, who was recalled from his loan spell in Azerbaijan, was also among the substitutes.
McInnes was far from pleased with his side’s showing on their last visit to Ibrox on November 29 with the sluggish start in the 3-0 defeat a source of particular consternation for the Dons boss.
The Reds did not make the same mistake on their return, although the visitors were fortunate not to lose an early goal once more when they failed to clear a corner and Martin found Josh Windass in space on the edge of the box but the midfielder’s low drive was deflected on to Lewis’ left post before the Aberdeen goalkeeper gathered the ball.
A Morelos header wide from Daniel Candeias’ cross was the only other moment of concern for the Dons in the opening 20 minutes.
Aberdeen dealt comfortably with the home threat in the opening quarter of the game but they offered little in attack until the 27th minute when a surging run from Kenny McLean ended with the midfielder sending Gary Mackay-Steven clear in the box but Wes Foderingham saved the winger’s low strike.
The Dons were left to rue that missed chance as Rangers made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute. Candeias’ cross from the right was not cleared and the ball came back to James Tavernier who picked out Morelos at the back post and the striker beat Lewis with a close range header.
Aberdeen tried to respond immediately through McLean who saw his shot parried by Foderingham before the home side had an appeal for a penalty waved away by referee Bobby Madden after Windass went down in the box under pressure from McKenna. There seemed little contact.
Rangers pushed for a second after the break and a superb one-handed save from Lewis denied the hosts from getting it, the Aberdeen goalkeeper diving low to his right to keep out a Morelos shot.
The pressure was building and so too was the atmosphere as Rangers began to find spaces to exploit and McKenna was booked for a trip on Morelos.
Aberdeen survived another scare just before the hour mark when Declan John’s cross seemed to hold up in the wind and, when Lewis failed to deal with the ball, it fell to Morelos but the forward somehow screwed his shot wide.
McInnes knew he had to change the pattern of the game and Niall McGinn was sent on for Greg Stewart for the final 30 minutes.
The Northern Ireland international’s first contribution was to fire in a dipping half volley from the edge of the box which failed to trouble Foderingham.
It was a momentary respite for Aberdeen as the pressure from the home side continued and Lewis made another fingertip save to tip a Windass lob over the bar.
The Aberdeen goalkeeper was giving his all to keep his side in the game but his evening was cut short with 15 minutes remaining when he was carried off on a stretcher after conceding a penalty.
Windass got to the ball first and knocked it past the Aberdeen goalkeeper before both men went sprawling but Lewis’ distress was clear instantly as he lay prone on the Ibrox surface.
Danny Rogers came on for the final 10 minutes in place of the injured goalkeeper but his first course of action was to pick the ball out of the net after being sent the wrong way from the spot by James Tavernier.
Aberdeen found their fighting spirit at 2-0 down and surged forward but Foderingham denied Adam Rooney and McKenna from close range but it was too little, too late from the Dons.