It’s now close enough to touch. And assuming Celtic don’t slip up at Tannadice tomorrow, a point will be all that’s required for Rangers to officially dethrone the outgoing Premiership champions on their own turf in a fortnight’s time.
And from the way Steven Gerrard’s players celebrated at the end, there was a very public acknowledgment that ten years of pain has been brought to an end.
Fittingly, there was no stand-out hero of this typically ruthless victory. From the outset, this title-winning season has been all about the collective.
Ianis Hagi (second-left) celebrates his goal, Rangers’ third, in a comfortable win on Saturday
Steven Gerrard, banned from the touchline, watched his side dominate from the stands
Alfredo Morelos put Rangers two goals up inside 16 minutes with an accurate finish
Ryan Kent opened the scoring for the Gers in the 14th minute against a helpless St Mirren
RANGERS 3-0 ST MIRREN – MATCH FACTS
Rangers: McGregor, Patterson, Goldson, Helander (Balogun 58), Barisic, Kamara, Davis (Arfield 59), Aribo, Hagi (Wright 74), Morelos (Defoe 73), Kent (Stewart 81)
Subs not used: Bassey, Simpson, Itten, McLaughlin
Goals: Kent 14, Morelos 16, Hagi 46
Manager: Steven Gerrard
St Mirren: Alnwick, Fraser, McCarthy, Shaughnessy, Tait, Doyle-Hayes, Erhahon (Reid 88), Connolly (MacPherson 71), McGrath (Flynn 71), Durmus (McAliister 55), Quaner (Obika 55)
Subs not used: Erwin, Lyness, Henderson, Jamieson
Booked: Shaughnessy, McGrath
Manager: Jim Goodwin
Referee: Steven McLean
So, while Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos and Ianis Hagi did their attacking jobs by providing the goals to defeat St Mirren, the win owed just as much to the trademark diligence of defender Connor Goldson and the veteran playmaker Steven Davis, two men who must surely feature at the very top of Scotland’s player of the year reckoning.
When Rangers started their journey through the leagues in front of a small crowd of 4485 at Peterhead in August 2012 it would have seemed inconceivable that their journey back to the top would conclude in front of deserted stadiums.
Denied a packed and jubilant Ibrox by the pandemic, there was crowd noise as a backdrop, but it came from the mob who’d decided to flout Lockdown restrictions by gathering outside.
A few days short of a big Europa League game against Czech champions Slavia Prague, Gerrard threw his strongest possible XI at this one.
Yet St Mirren surely did not come here simply to form a guard of honour and wave the champions elect on to victory.
Jim Goodwin stands on the verge of achieving his stated aim for the season, a place in the Premiership’s top six, but the gap from mid-table to the summit was cruelly exposed.
Without the resources of their hosts the Paisley club needed to box clever but just as important as maintaining shape and concentration was the presence of a plan to make the most of any opportunities to get up the pitch.
It’s doubtful Steven Gerrard would have anticipated Goodwin’s decision to settle on Collin Quaner as the best option.
Picked up on a free transfer in January, the former Ipswich striker had managed just two substitute appearances for Saints, but last weekend’s cameo did provide a game-changing moment when he won the disputed late penalty that beat Ross County.
A diving controversy was also at the root of the touchline ban that saw Gerrard watch the game from the stand.
Rangers supporters broke lockdown restrictions to gather outside Ibrox Stadium on Saturday
Fans were in a party mood as Steven Gerrard’s side inch closer to an historic title triumph
The rescinding of Alfredo Morelos’s card for simulation at Livingston in midweek could account for Gerrard’s half-time displeasure with referee John Beaton, if not the foul-mouthed manner in which he chose to vent his fury.
St Mirren’s efforts to choke the game threatened to make this an uncomfortable watch for the former England captain but Gerrard was soon relaxing in his padded director’s box seat as his team opened the game up with two goals in quick succession around the quarter-hour mark.
Connor Goldson’s sharp interception of Ilkay Durmus’s pass fed Ryan Kent for the first but the former Liverpool man still had lots do as he sized up the shooting opportunity on his right foot.
A quick check back onto his left gave him the angle he needed and the power generated meant Jak Alnwick never stood a chance.
Kent celebrates giving his side the lead with a lovely finish past St Mirren keeper Jak Alnwick
To Goodwin’s visible frustration the second was even easier.
Glen Kamara fed Morelos on the inside right channel and the Colombian squeezed his finish back across goal and in off the post for his eighth in the last 11 games.
Dylan Connolly was expending plenty of energy for Saints on the right flank and was responsible his team’s best attack as he ran at Filip Helander before skewing a shot wide when a cross for Durmus might have been the better option.
Just 27 seconds of the second half had elapsed when Rangers nailed down the points.
The attack swept down the left through Joe Aribo to the jet-heeled Kent who eased up on the after-burners in time to pick out Hagi at the back post.
Colombian Morelos scored Rangers’ winner in midweek and was on the scoresheet again here
With no St Mirren player near him, the Romanian had time to control and slam his finish past Alnwick.
Keeping goal against his former club, Alnwick turned over a bobbling Kent drive with his left boot, before his opposite number Allan McGregor pulled off something special with a one-handed stop that denied Saints sub Jon Obika, now on for the toiling Quaner.
If Hagi’s goal played out like a finishing drill, the second half drifted to a conclusion like an extended training session with subs Jermain Defoe and Scott Arfield drawing further saves from Alnwick.
Come the end, those supporters gathered behind the Copeland Road Stand were treated to a bizarre ‘audience’ with their heroes who assembled behind the iron gates at the Main Stand corner of the stadium to celebrate.
Hagi celebrates with a bow after his goal following the interval after being played in by Kent
Gerrard – watching from the directors box after his run-in with John Beaton at Livingston in midweek – gave a satisfied smile, knowing his long wait for a first ever league title is almost over.
Rangers were heading towards their 30th clean sheet in 45 games this season but needed Allan McGregor to pull off a fine one-handed reaction stop as Jon Obika turned a loose ball towards the top corner.
Alnwick was on form too, denying Scott Arfield and Jermain Defoe late on, but Gers could care less. Their long wait to return to the top of Scottish football is almost over.
Supporters swarmed what is believed to be Gerrard’s car as the Rangers manager made his way to the stadium