Rangers have moved to within two points of Celtic at the top of the Premiership after extending their unbeaten run with victory over St Johnstone at Ibrox.

Cyriel Dessers opened the scoring after 28 minutes but Rangers had to wait until the closing stages to make sure of the points. A James Tavernier penalty ensured there was no way back for the visitors.

Boss Philippe Clement suffered another injury blow as Kemar Roofe was forced off inside a quarter of an hour, while John Lundstram didn’t reappear after the break following a lunging tackle that saw Diallang Jaiyesimi sent off.

Rangers are within striking distance in the title race

Clement was asked at his pre-match press conference whether things could have gone any better for him during the first weeks of his Ibrox reign. As the Belgian pointed out, they could have. The two points dropped away to Aberdeen were costly at the time but Rangers have recovered in fine fashion and they are now 15 matches unbeaten under Clement’s guidance. The seven-point deficit that he inherited when he replaced Michael Beale has been reduced to just two. If Motherwell and Ross County can be taken care of over the next week, Rangers will head into the Old Firm fixture with the chance to go top of the table.

That situation would have felt almost inconceivable not that long ago. But a squad that are short on numbers, and still short of quality in certain areas, have found a way to pick up results. Rangers are far from the finished article and they still have gears to move through. It is imperative that they keep winning while they do that, however, and the mentality that Clement has referenced so often has come to the fore in recent weeks. The 49-year-old wants his side to ‘confirm’. Following up a win over Real Betis with a League Cup triumph and a Premiership victory is quite the statement of intent.

Job done and game won

This was as one-sided as expected. Rangers only hand a single goal to show for their endeavours at the break but St Johnstone could have no complaints about being behind. Roofe headed wide early on and Connor Goldson saw his strike blocked after peeling away to collect a Tavernier corner. After Dessers opened the scoring in fine style, he was denied from the edge of the area and Kieran Dowell saw a well-struck effort saved. At the other end, Jack Butland’s biggest concern was trying to keep warm. Craig Levein’s side offered nothing, either before or after being reduced to ten men, and it was a case of damage limitation for the visitors.

Rangers needed the second goal just to make sure. Abdallah Sima and Sam Lammers should have provided it with chances from inside the area in the opening stages of the second half. It had become Rangers versus Dimitar Mitov. A fine save to block a Dessers strike was followed by an even more impressive one to deny Lammers. Sima couldn’t find the target with his final chance before being replaced by Scott Wright as Todd Cantwell also entered the action, taking over from Lammers after another largely ineffective showing. Tavernier twice came close as he looked to be the match winner once again. When he got a chance from 12 yards, he made the most of it and Mitov was rooted to the spot as the lead was doubled.

Clement uses his limited options

This was not the side that many would have expected to see named. It was, though, perhaps no surprise as Clement made the most of the group and was true to his message that every player will be required and be used over the course of the campaign. There was a degree of gamble to make five changes but Clement could justify each on their own merits as John Souttar, Ridvan Yilmaz, Lammers, Dowell and Roofe started. The squad that Clement has at his disposal right now is stretched, especially in midfield. Given the fixtures that will come before the winter break, the Belgian simply cannot ask the same faces to turn up and perform time after time.

This was the kind of evening where it made sense to make changes, as is the visit of Ross County next midweek. When Rangers travel to Fir Park on Christmas Eve, a more familiar line-up will take to the field. And the strongest side, from whoever is available, will be required for the Old Firm showdown the following weekend as Rangers target top spot in the standings. This was not a night where strong cases were made for a derby jersey. It was a useful exercise for Dowell in particular, though, and his first minutes since the win over Dundee were timely given the ongoing issues with Nicolas Raskin, Ryan Jack and Tom Lawrence.

Another injury blow for Roofe

What a week it has been for Roofe. He was the hero in Seville last Thursday, he lifted the League Cup on Sunday and he earned a start here. Like so much of his Rangers career, the highs were followed by another low. Just 15 minutes in, his night came to a premature end. The sight of Dessers on the touchline only meant one thing and those fears were confirmed when Roofe’s number appeared on the board. The striker looked distraught as he trudged off. He walked straight by his manager and headed for the tunnel before a quick spin on his heels and an exchange with Clement.

Roofe didn’t hang about to take a seat on the bench. His shirt was off his back before he was out of sight and the walk back to the dressing room will have been a difficult one for a player who has been through so much in recent seasons. Roofe spoke in the aftermath of the win over Betis about how he never doubted that he would be back and how he is always determined to emerge stronger from the trials and tribulations that he has to endure. This is another challenge that Roofe must now overcome.

VAR shouldn’t have been needed

The frustration from one fan seated in the Main Stand at Ibrox would have been shared by many, and certainly by Dessers. As the screens confirmed a VAR check was in progress, a supporter exclaimed ‘you just can’t celebrate goals these days’. All Dessers could do was make his way back to the centre and wait for the decision to come through. He need not have worried. There looked little dubiety about the goal at first viewing. Dessers has had his fair share of offside calls over the course of the campaign but he was in the right place at the right time on this occasion as James Tavernier picked him out at the back post and he finished well beyond Mitov. Once the goal had been cleared, Ibrox could celebrate for a second time.

Steve Kirkland, the VAR for the evening, was called into action once again just minutes later. It should not have been required but referee Alan Muir was thankfully given the chance to rectify his mistake. The challenge from Jaiyesimi was crude as he crunched through John Lundstram. The reaction from the robust Scouser told its own story and he received treatment before being able to continue. As soon as Muir was called over to the screen, it was obvious that Jaiyesimi’s night was over. Muir changed his decision from yellow to red and the Saints were down to ten. It really shouldn’t have been called into question in the first place and Lundstram didn’t reappear for the second half as no chances were taken. The check for the penalty was straightforward, too. So was the finish from Tavernier.