Michael Beale maintained his impressive start as Rangers manager to close the gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership to six points – but only after his side dug deep to defeat Ross County.
Malik Tillman nodded late in the first half to break up a stubborn visiting defense before Jordan White’s equalizer stunned Ibrox after the break.
But Rangers fortuitously regained the lead 10 minutes later when Borna Barisic’s deflected free-kick left Ross Laidlaw off guard in the County goal.
Reigning champions Celtic’s victory at St Johnstone on Sunday will restore their nine-point lead, but Beale now remains 12 matches in all competitions unbeaten.
Meanwhile, County, still in search of their first-ever win against Rangers, remain embroiled in a relegation fight as they remain 10th.
Despite being just a point above Dundee United, Malky Mackay can be proud of his players’ efforts.
After making a promising start, with George Harmon and Eamonn Brophy seeing goal-bound efforts blocked, they kept Rangers on the sidelines until the latter stages of the first half.
And even after the home side regained the lead, the Rangers defense had to resist the pressure in the closing stages to earn their three points.
Beale’s side delivered their best performance of their tenure so far at Hearts in midweek, but their players failed to reach those levels as a well-organized county frustrated the hosts.
It seemed like it would take something special or a slice of luck to crack the visitors’ bottom line. In the end, it was both.
A classy moment from Todd Cantwell, who jumped his way to the waiting line, provided the opening for Tillman – a first-half substitute for the injured John Lundstram – to head home.
And after White leveled, Barisic’s deflected free-kick handed an 11th win in 12 games for his coach, whose unbeaten start continues.
Player of the Match – Todd Cantwell
Tillman & Cantwell bring flair to midfield – analysis
Tillman’s performance off the bench is perhaps proof that Beale could be more adventurous with his midfield selection in home games, as the American and Cantwell have both been key to unlocking the deep defense County.
However, trying to strike a balance can be tricky, as Beale hinted when he called for more late-game control in his post-game comments.
Nicolas Raskin, who made his debut in a late cameo, looks like one who can provide that cool head in midfield, with the Belgian showing composure and class during his brief spell on the pitch.
Doubts remain over the goalkeeper position, however. Jon McLaughlin didn’t claim glory for White’s equalizer and you have to wonder if the frequent rotation is beneficial.
As always with teams of County stature, their season will not be defined by games against the old firm. But after a four-game losing streak at the end of 2022, Mackay’s side have made themselves harder to beat since the start of the year.
Despite winning just one of their last nine league matches, the defeat at Ibrox is only their second in their last six games. Performances like Saturday’s against lesser opposition are sure to net more points in the Highlands team’s quest for survival.
What did they say?
Rangers manager Michael Beale: “We sometimes wasted in the final third. Another day we should score more. Sometimes I wanted to see a bit more control. It was a bit tense and it shouldn’t be like that at Ibrox.
“It’s about getting wins by the minute and building momentum. We’re also trying to bring in new players. We’ve played three games this week and won all three of them, so I can’t be too hard on the guys.”
Ross County Executive Malky Mackay: “The overall performance gives me confidence for the future. We get applause but we don’t take points which is disappointing.
“We came out of the window strongly, we now have strength and depth. As a group we will do everything to stay in the league.”
Rangers focus on the Scottish Cup next Sunday as they host Partick Thistle (1600 GMT). County will be next in action in a fortnight when they travel to St Mirren in the league.