THIS victory was unnecessarily nervy, but unquestionably important. As Jim Goodwin parked the bus, Jermain Defoe drove Rangers on to three points.

There won’t be many that will remember this game fondly come the end of the campaign but it is only then that the true value of the win could be shown for Steven Gerrard.

Rangers remain two points adrift of Celtic at the top of the table and still, of course, have their game in hand over their Old Firm rivals. In truth, that is all that really matters but this was far from a classic performance as Rangers failed to make their superiority count.

Buddies boss Jim Goodwin had given away his game plan earlier this week when he confirmed, not unexpectedly, that it would be a defensive setup from his side. That won’t have shocked Gerrard, but Rangers must become better at overcoming such tactics if they are to avoid more fraught finales to fixtures that should be taken care of more routinely.

Gerrard knew that his side would remain patient in the pursuit of the points and he had reiterated that the crowd had to do the same. This was never going to be a stroll to victory as Rangers had to dig deep in the end to see it out.

The memories of their stumble at Kilmarnock this time last year came back in the build-up but this is a much improved Gers side. This time, the momentum from their Old Firm win was built on rather than thrown away on their return to action.

There was a far more familiar look about the side that took to the field at Ibrox here than the one that Gerrard picked on Friday night. A largely second string line-up was more than good enough to see off Stranraer, but the likes of Allan McGregor, Connor Goldson and Ryan Kent returned for the first Premiership clash of the New Year.

Crucially, of course, there was no James Tavernier on Alfredo Morelos. The captain and star striker were ruled out through injury and suspension respectively and while there was a question over who would replace Tavernier, there was no doubt about who would start in place of Morelos.

Thankfully for Gerrard, neither absence proved costly. Jon Flanagan got the nod over youngster Nathan Patterson for the right-back berth and Defoe, who had scored from the spot on Friday, marked his second consecutive start with another decisive goal.

As Gerrard looked ahead to these fixtures without Morelos at the winter training camp in Dubai, the 39-year-old had insisted that Defoe was no understudy to the Colombian. His performances and goals back up that assertion and the former England striker showed his importance to the cause here.

Rangers had looked an increasing threat as the clock had ticked on and the expected moans and groans hadn’t really materialised come the half hour mark. Ibrox and Gerrard would have been satisfied with what they had seen but Rangers needed a goal.

After 34 minutes, they got it. The ball from Borna Barisic could go down as a cross or a shot but it was certainly an assist.

The years haven’t taken the edge off Defoe’s predatory instincts and the striker was in the right place at the right time once again. Reacting first to a deflection, Defoe poked the ball beyond Vaclav Hladky from six yards and the deadlock was broken.

St Mirren had defended valiantly up until that stage but they could have no complaints about falling behind as Rangers’ possession and patience finally paid off.

Their best chances had come from crosses into the area after Ryan Kent had been denied on the angle following a neat move involving Joe Aribo. It was Nikola Katic who had come closest for Rangers as two headers rose just over the bar and a third was saved by Hladky.

Rangers had seen a strong penalty appeal waved away when Goldson was held by Jon Obika, while a header from the stopper should have led to the second goal just before the break as Aribo couldn’t convert from close range.

Any attacking intention that St Mirren had thought about showing had suffered a setback in the opening minutes as captain Kyle Magennis was stretchered off with a knee injury. The Saints were diligent and well-drilled but the pattern of the first half inevitably followed into the second as Rangers went in search of the goal to clinch the points.

Chances proved hard to come by in the opening stages as the ball was shifted across and back in front of a wall of black and white shirts. It was a frustrating watch for the Ibrox crowd and a Katic effort that evaded the far corner and the incoming Defoe summed up proceedings to that stage.

Rangers needed a spark but it was St Mirren that almost got the second goal of the night. A Cammy Macpherson free-kick found Conor McCarthy but the defender couldn’t convert as the Saints’ chance came and went.

Another couple arrived for Rangers but they too were unconverted. They had their goal and they had their points but there will be few plaudits forthcoming.