Ryan Kent scored his first goals since a summer return to Rangers to help his side to a 3-1 victory at Hamilton, as Steven Gerrard’s side kept pace with Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
After Lewis Smith had equalised for the hosts following Ryan Jack’s opener, £7m winger Kent restored the visitors’ lead just before half-time with a wonderful strike, before sealing the three points in stoppage time. That ended a nervous second half for the visitors, with Hamilton missing several chances to pull level.
After sealing victory, the Ibrox side rejoin title rivals Celtic on 34 points, with the champions staying top on goal difference. The gap to third-placed Aberdeen is now nine points, after the Dons were held to a 1-1 draw at St Johnstone.
With Gers’ top scorer, Alfredo Morelos, touching down in Glasgow 24 hours before kick-off following international duty with Colombia, Gerrard decided to start with him on the bench.
The hosts had earlier announced new two-year deals for Smith and fellow academy graduate Jamie Hamilton. There were contrasting fortunes for the teenagers early on, with 17-year-old Hamilton at fault for Rangers’ seventh-minute opener.
James Tavernier skipped past Scott Martin on the right before firing in a low cross. Centre-back Hamilton stopped it, but succeeded only in setting the ball on a plate for Ryan Jack to roll home his fourth goal of the season.
It almost got even better for Rangers when Kent weaved inside from the left and drilled the ball off the base of Luke Southwood’s right-hand post. But the smile was soon wiped off Gerrard’s face as Accies levelled in the 14th minute.
Mikael Miller sent over a deep cross from the left which Steve Davies did well to reach and nod down for Smith. Filip Helander blocked his initial effort, but the 19-year-old headed in the rebound.
There was no sense of panic as Rangers patiently went about picking holes in the hosts’ defence. Jack was repeatedly left in space outside the box to shoot or fire in dangerous crosses.
Accies survived, even when Aaron McGowan used an arm to stop a Kent strike, but their luck ran out two minutes before the break as Kent produced a moment of sublime quality to put Rangers back in front.
Jack and Tavernier worked the ball to the former Liverpool winger just outside the box and he did the rest, dropping a shoulder to give Johnny Hunt the slip before rifling an unstoppable strike into the top corner.
The hosts again tried to respond. Miller did brilliantly to rob Kent early in the second period and fire over another deep cross but Hunt could not convert. There was a bigger scare for Rangers in the 65th minute, as substitute George Oakley fired a low cross just beyond Miller.
Gers lacked the control and intensity of the first half but came within a whisker of a third on 75 minutes as Helander rose high to nod a Kent free-kick wide. There was then a final heart-in-mouth moment for Rangers as McGowan picked out Oakley late on, but goalkeeper Allan McGregor came to the rescue.
Morelos was introduced with seven minutes left, and that was enough time to see him booked, for a flick out at Miller, before grabbing an assist three minutes into stoppage time. The forward rolled the ball to Kent, who calmed the fraying nerves of the away support with a cool finish.
Gerrard said: “It’s another positive result and three points away from home against a team who were very competitive and gave their manager everything they had. Our performance was very mixed. At times, we looked like we had a lot of quality and created lots of chances. But, at times, we looked a bit vulnerable as well.
“We haven’t been ruthless or defended well enough. We have to be better in the final third and kill teams off … we’re going into a game away to Feyenoord [in the Europa League on Thursday] when we’ll need to find a better performance.”