AND then the gap at the top of the cinch Premiership table was just two.

Rangers’ resurgence under Philippe Clement proceeded apace at Ibrox this evening as they defeated St Johnstone with a minimum of fuss in the first of their two games in hand and moved to within touching distance of leaders Celtic at the top of the table.

A goal from Cyriel Dessers – who had come on for Kemar Roofe early on – in the first half gave the home side the lead and when Diallang Jaiyesimi was then ordered off for a foul on John Lundstram after a VAR review it killed off the visitors’ hopes of staging a fightback.   

James Tavernier and his team mates struggled to net a second and kill the game off despite dominating completely - but St Johnstone keeper Dimitar Mitov brought down Dessers inside his own area late on and the captain made no mistake with his penalty. 

Santa Claus brought the Viaplay Cup which the Glasgow giants had won at Hampden on Sunday out onto the park during the half-time break to the delight of the home supporters in the 46,931-strong crowd.  

But the Bears will be looking forward to the Old Firm game at Parkhead on Sunday week more than Christmas after watching Clement extend his unbeaten start as manager to 15 games with a routine triumph.

The loss of Kemar Roofe and John Lundstram were the only negatives.

Here are five talking points to emerge from events in Govan.

Strength in depth

Clement has no qualms about making extensive changes to his starting line-up to freshen his team up and he brought in no fewer than five players tonight – just as he had done for the last Rangers’ game in Govan against Dundee earlier this month.

Ridvan Yilmaz, John Souttar, Kieran Dowell, Sam Lammers and Roofe all got their chance to impress as Borna Barisic, Leon Balogun, Dujon Sterling, Todd Cantwell and Dessers dropped to the replacements’ bench.

His charges, after making a shaky start and falling behind early on, recorded a comfortable 3-1 victory on the previous occasion that he had carried out such radical surgery. Would they be able to achieve the same outcome?

It was, perhaps not surprisingly after their wins over Betis last Thursday and Aberdeen on Sunday and the new faces who were drafted in, not their best performance of the season.

Still, they produced a professional display and duly collected all three points. The game time will be invaluable for the likes of Yilmaz, Souttar, Dowell and Lammers.

Roofe blow

Clement suggested the running drills which the Rangers players he inherited from Michael Beale had been doing in training at Auchenhowie had been partially responsible for a lengthy injury list shortly after he arrived.

He has since implemented his own fitness programme with his backroom staff and is hopeful that it will help the physical condition of individuals who spend more time on the treatment table than the field of play.

But Roofe continues to struggle. The Jamaican striker only lasted 16 minutes before he had to be taken off. His unhappiness at suffering another setback was obvious as he stormed up the tunnel. It looks less likely he will be able to enjoy a run in the side and earn a contract extension with every outing.

Dessers on target again

Dessers did not have to work very hard for his goal. St Johnstone centre half Andrew Considine was unable to clear the cross which Tavernier whipped into his penalty box from wide on the right touchline and the striker kept his composure and broke the deadlock

But the Nigerian striker certainly performed brightly thereafter. He forced good saves from Mitov on two occasions and set up Lammers for a shot with a deft lay-off. He did well, too, to win the spot kick. 

He has some way to go to justify the £4.5m fee which it took to secure his services. But he is making his presence felt far more than he did after he first arrived in this country in the summer. He took his tally for the 2023/24 campaign to nine tonight.

Toothless Saints

No St Johnstone player had scored in the Premiership away from home this season going into their encounter with Rangers away.

They had needed a Bevis Mugabe own goal to earn a 1-1 draw with Motherwell at Fir Park earlier this month. Could the visitors end their barren run on the road and get on the scoresheet at Ibrox in the Premiership for the first time since 2018?

Levein left Nicky Clark and Stevie May out deployed Jaiyesimi up front by himself in an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 formation. But the Charlton Athletic loanee received next to no service from his team mates before being sent off.

Referee Alan Muir initially showed the Englishman a yellow card for a rash and needless challenge on John Lunstram which left his compatriot writhing on the ground in agony and clutching his ankle.

But the match official was urged to have another look at the incident on the pitchside monitor by his VAR colleague Steve Kirkland and he upgraded the punishment to a red.

St Johnstone have shown improved form under their new manager and have moved up the league. They withstood long periods of sustained pressure and frustrated their opponents effectively. There clearly, though, remains much work to be done. They offered nothing going forward this evening. Jack Butland did not have a single save of note to make.   

Lundstram concern

The former Sheffield United midfielder appeared to recover from the Jaiyesimi lunge and finish the first half without any issues. But he failed to reappear for the second half and was replaced by Sterling.

Clement is not particularly well covered in his position with Jose Cifuentes, Nicolas Raskin and Ryan Jack all sidelined and Dowell having hardly featured.