Nikica Jelavic fired Rangers back to the top of the Scottish Premier League as his double strike clinched a dramatic 2-1 win over St Johnstone today. Croatian striker Jelavic opened the scoring mid-way through the first half at McDiarmid Park, but Carlos Bocanegra's own goal in the second period looked to have denied Rangers a much-needed win.
However, Jelavic has been the champions' savour on many occasions this season and he bagged the vital winner with nine minutes to play. Thanks to Jelavic's efforts, Ally McCoist's side took first place from arch rivals Celtic, but the Hoops will go two points clear at the top if they beat Dundee United at Parkhead later on Saturday.
With Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor sidelined with a thigh injury, Neil Alexander came in for his first league appearance of the season, while key midfielder Steven Davis was back from suspension. There was an early scare for McCoist's men when Marcus Haber went close for the hosts.
Saints striker Francisco Sandaza is reportedly set to reject Rangers' offer of a free transfer move to Ibrox at the end of the season and he showed them what they could be missing with a surging run that set up Haber. The chance was converted as he rifled past Alexander but Rangers were able to breath a sigh of relief when the effort was flagged offside.
Jelavic settles Rangers
That narrow escape seemed to focus Rangers and they took the lead in the 23rd minute when Sone Aluko collected a quick free-kick from Davis and weaved his way into the box before unleashing a shot, which was blocked before Jelavic flicked home from close range. The home side were unhappy with the positioning of the set-piece and skipper Jody Morris was shown a yellow card for dissent.
Referee Craig Thomson then warned both managers about their behaviour towards each other in the dug-out. Jelavic required treatment following a challenge by Steven Anderson, but David Healy failed to make the resulting free-kick count.
Rangers threatened a second goal early in the second half when Davis whipped a corner towards Dorin Goian, who headed goalwards only to be denied when Robertson cleared off the line. However, Saints equalised in the 67th minute when a Liam Craig cross was nodded down towards goal by Haber and deflected into the back of his own net by American defender Bocanegra.
Rangers poured forward in search of a winner and a well-struck shot from Healy was blocked by Enckelman, with Lee Wallace failing to connect at the far post as he tried to nod home the loose ball. But the visitors were celebrating in the 81st minute when Aluko's free-kick was nodded onto his own crossbar by Murray Davidson and dropped for Jelavic to force over the line from close-range.