A game which promised an upset for Ross County ended in disappointment against Rangers.
The Staggies could not have dreamed of a better start at Ibrox, with Joseph Hungbo’s goal putting them ahead against the champions after just six minutes.
Malky Mackay’s men were unable to step up to the test of resolve which followed, with Joe Aribo equalising within 12 minutes. Further goals followed courtesy of Ryan Kent, Juninho Bacuna and an Alex Iacovitti own goal, with substitute Jordan White pulling back a second late in the match.
It was County’s first game since they emphatically recorded their first win of the season with a 5-0 victory at Dundee on October 27.
Frustratingly it will now be their last until their rescheduled match at home to Hibernian on November 24, meaning they must wait to reduce the four-point gap below Dundee at the foot of the Premiership.
County made just one change from the side which romped to victory against Dundee. Jack Burroughs came into the side to replace Jordan White, in a move which saw Regan Charles-Cook occupy a forward role. There was also a place on the bench for left back Jake Vokins, who has spent the entire league campaign sidelined by injury.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard made a raft of changes from the side which drew 1-1 against Brondby in midweek, with attackers Alfredo Morelos and Kemar Roofe among those on the bench.
Although the hosts looked to apply early pressure, forcing some alert defending from the Dingwall men. The Staggies, who had no away support, stunned Ibrox into silence after just six minutes however. Ianis Hagi squandered possession to Charles-Cook, who threaded a pass from which Hungbo beat the offside trap before slipping low under the body of Allan McGregor.
It was the dream start for Mackay, but a strong defensive showing quickly became needed. The Gers’ first meaningful opportunity came on 12 minutes when Bacuna showed neat footwork to weave his way into a shooting position, but he saw his strike from a narrow angle beaten behind by Ashley Maynard-Brewer.
The Staggies’ lead was cancelled out on 18 minutes however, with Aribo meeting James Tavernier’s corner to guide a looping header across Maynard-Brewer’s goal and in at the far post.
County’s resolve continued to be tested, with a superb challenge by Harry Clarke thwarting an almost certain goal from Fashion Sakala. It was from the resulting corner that Rangers turned the game on its head though. Tavernier’s corner was not fully cleared, allowing it to land at the feet of Kent, who rifled a fizzing strike over the reach of Maynard-Brewer who was left with no chance.
Mackay altered his side at the interval, bringing Blair Spittal on in place of Burroughs. The Staggies’ task became even harder three minutes after the break though, as Rangers built up a two-goal cushion. It was a well-worked move, with Bacuna exchanging passes with Aribo before firing a crisp strike past Maynard-Brewer from the edge of the box.
County sought a way back into the match but they struggled to trouble the hosts’ rearguard, while Rangers looked to add to their tally. Tavernier was presented with a chance after being played in by Aribo, however he lashed his effort well wide.
The Gers made it four on the hour mark, in an unfortunate moment for defender Iacovitti who extended his leg in an attempt to thwart Tavernier’s delivery, only to divert it into his own net.
The visitors tried to reduce the deficit, with Joseph Hungbo striking over from distance after working his way into a shooting position.
County also had to ride out more pressure to keep the scoreline down. A Bacuna strike brushed the roof of the net, while Sakala forced a block by the legs of Maynard-Brewer.
White pulled a goal back with a composed finish following Harry Paton’s reverse pass in the dying stages, but the damage had already been done.
RANGERS (4-3-3) – McGregor 6; Tavernier 7, Goldson 6, Balogun 6 (Patterson 70), Bassey 6; Aribo 8, Lundstram 6 (Jack 70), Bacuna 7; Hagi 6, Sakala 6, Kent 8 (Roofe 60). Subs not used – McLaughlin, Jack, Kamara, Morelos, Arfield.
ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1) – Maynard-Brewer 6; Clarke 6, Baldwin 6, Iacovitti 5, Randall 6; Tillson 6, H Paton 6; Hungbo 6 (White 72), Callachan 6 (D Samuel 84), Burroughs 5 (Spittal 46); Charles-Cook 6. Subs not used – Laidlaw, Vokins, Robertson, Watson.
Referee – David Munro 5
Attendance – 49,222
Man of the match: Ryan Kent