Rangers moved level on points with Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic after beating Aberdeen 2-1 at Ibrox as Neil Warnock suffered defeat in his first game in charge of the Dons.
Philippe Clement’s side, who knew a win by at least three goals would take them to the top of the table, made the perfect start as Rabbi Matondi struck to give them the lead in the seventh minute.
Rangers dominated the majority of the first half but a second goal was not forthcoming, and they were punished right on the stroke of half-time as Bojan Miovski scored his eighth league goal in nine matches to bring Warnock’s side level.
Aberdeen continued to frustrate after the break but the Rangers pressure eventually told as Todd Cantwell continued his good scoring run to put his side back into the lead.
There was late drama as substitute Dujon Sterling saw red for a late challenge on Jack MacKenzie, despite referee Don Robertson being sent for a pitchside review, but Rangers survived eight minutes of stoppage time to hold on for what could prove to be a valuable three points in the title race.
The result piles the pressure on Celtic, who have the chance to restore their three-point advantage at the top when they travel to Easter Road to face Hibernian on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports (kick-off 8pm).
How Rangers piled the pressure on Celtic…
Warnock’s appointment at Aberdeen until the end of the season had captured interest UK-wide but his side were behind early on.
The home supporters were up for the game and soon had something to cheer as Rangers made a turbo-charged start. The early goal was initiated by Matondo’s interception and pass to Cantwell. The Gers player moved the ball on to winger Ross McCausland whose low drive from the edge of the box seemed to lack real power to trouble Kelle Roos but he spilled the shot to the on-rushing Matondo who blasted it into the net from close range.
Matondo then hesitated before getting a shot away after he had carved open the Aberdeen defence, and his effort was blocked for a corner which Tom Lawrence headed over.
Rangers appeared in control but when midfielder Connor Barron lobbed the ball forward it caught the Light Blues napping and Miovski fended off defender Connor Goldson and slipped the ball past Jack Butland with assurance to stun Ibrox.
The goal did nothing for the Rangers nerves and there was a different feel to the start of the second half.
Roos made saves from Matondo and Cyriel Dessers but the flag was up for offside. That was enough for Clement. Matondo made way for new boy Oscar Cortes, the Colombian winger on loan from Lens, with Fabio Silva replacing Dessers.
Aberdeen were pinned back in their own half but a well-organised and determined defence kept an increasingly frantic Rangers at bay.
The Dons repelled a series of corners with Roos blocking a Lawrence shot with his foot following one of Ridvan Yilmaz’s deliveries.
However, Lawrence’s next effort from distance was venomous and although the Pittodrie keeper made a decent save, the ball fell to Cantwell who slid the ball back into the net for his fifth goal in eight games.
Amid more substitutions, Mohammed Diomande replaced Cantwell in the 85th minute to make his debut and took part in a frantic finale where Sterling, on for Lawrence, was dismissed with referee Robertson asked to check his pitchside monitor by the VAR only to stick to his guns.
It was quite an introduction to Scottish football for Warnock but Rangers continue their chase of Celtic.
‘There’s been a mentality shift at Rangers’
Sky Sports’ Chris Sutton at Ibrox:
“It’s a massive win for Rangers.
“There has been a mentality shift. You can see it. The longer Clement has been manager at the club, the belief has grown and it is getting stronger and stronger.
“Rangers deserved to win the game. They were the dominant team.
“Of course, the sending-off changed things towards the end and Aberdeen possibly should have had a penalty which was missed.
“But overall, Rangers deserved the three points.”
The attention now turns to the Scottish Cup fifth round on Saturday.
Aberdeen are at home to League Two side Bonnyrigg Rose at 3pm, with Rangers up against Scott Brown’s Ayr United at 5.30pm.