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.
Sutton: Momentum has swung in title race | ‘Celtic need to respond’
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.
“There’s been a very obvious momentum swing since Clement’s arrival at Rangers. He’s building a team that is gathering belief with every week.
“They found a way to win against Aberdeen. It wasn’t all pretty but they got over the line.
“Celtic have been inconsistent this season. That has been their biggest problem. They haven’t got a brilliant record against Hibernian at Easter Road under Brendan Rodgers.
“It’s time for Celtic to go there and respond.”
‘Winning is breeding confidence for Rangers’
Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd at Ibrox:
“We can talk about managers and all the work they put in on the training field but when you start winning games of football you start getting belief, and that is exactly what Rangers are doing at this moment in time.
“They had a bump in the road when they went to Celtic Park and got beat, but they got back on the horse and have gone again.
“Clement talks about turning up at Ibrox and everyone has a smile on their face. Everyone is expecting to win football matches at Rangers and the fans are right behind the team. They feel something is brewing.
“However, it all comes down to one thing and that is winning games of football. When that happens that is when the smiles come.”
Clement: This team can go a long way
Rangers boss Philippe Clement:
“It is a game where things go against you, where luck is not on your side. We dominated in the first half, played good football, created good chances. They had one good opportunity just before half-time that was a goal.
“A moment like that a few months ago would have created some tension in the heads of the team, some doubts in the fans also. That is not the case anymore. They know on the pitch that we are close to the three points if we keep doing what we have been doing.
“Going to 10 players was another thing that went against us and you need to stick together. It is a massive thing to win games like this, those are normally the ones where you lose points. If we keep winning games like that, it is good for the rest of the season.
On what the win means for the title race: “We are not thinking about that, we are taking it game by game. It is not only on team spirit that we won the game, it was the football. I think we were the better team.
“I am really satisfied about the synergy that is back in the stadium. That was one of the things that tempted me to take this job to bring that back. It is a big difference compared to three four months ago, fans and players are enjoying it together that is a major thing.
“I believe this team can go a really long way if they stick together and there is no egos, everybody is thinking about the team not about themselves then they will all have a really great season in three competitions because we are still fighting for three competitions.”
Warnock: Players have set the standard now
Aberdeen manager Neil Warnock:
“I thought the application was excellent. To go a goal down early on, a lot of teams might have crumbled but I thought we hung in there. I thought we grew into the game, to get the goal like we did was a real plus. I felt we were rushing a bit, playing the occasion and not calming down but I thought we did that as the game moved on.
“I have been in the game a long time but we didn’t really know what to expect having only seen the players for a couple of days. They have answered all the questions. It is my kind of club, the fans were fabulous and the players have given me everything. I am looking forward to the challenge.
“They are all putting a shift in now. Some of the lads who have got away with one in the last 12 months are having to work a little bit harder now.
“I think we can give any team a game. We have played the top three three times – now let’s try and make sure we play them again.
“The lads have set the standard tonight and I think they can raise that. I am pleased with everything they have done tonight. We are disappointed because I think we were close to an equaliser.”
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.