Rangers vs Kilmarnock. Scottish Premiership.
Report as Ross McCausland scores Rangers' opener against Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership; Abdallah Sima nets second just before half-time, but Daniel Armstrong pulls one back from penalty spot for visitors; Todd Cantwell quickly restores Rangers' two-goal lead
Tuesday 2 January 2024 20:46, UK
Rangers bounced back from their Old Firm defeat with a 3-1 victory over Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership.
Gers lost ground in the title race after losing 2-1 to Celtic in the final game of 2023 last week and remain eight points adrift, but responded with a comfortable win over fourth-placed Killie.
Ross McCausland scored Rangers' opener in the 41st minute but only after Jack Butland made a big save to deny Kyle Vassell from giving the visitors the lead.
Abdallah Sima made it two before the break with a spectacular volley although Daniel Armstrong pulled one back early in the second half with a penalty, the first spot kick awarded against Rangers since January 2022.
But Todd Cantwell restored the home side's two-goal lead with a close-range finish to end on a high going into the winter break.
The afternoon began with a poignant minute's silence in tribute to the 66 fans who died in the Ibrox Disaster on January 2, 1971, before Rangers looked to make amends for their weekend woes by starting with pace and purpose.
In the seventh minute a shot from Gers attacker Cyriel Dessers on the turn struck the outside of the post.
Killie keeper Will Dennis then turned a deflected drive from Sima past the post for a corner which came to nothing before Dessers headed a cross from left-back Ridvan Yilmaz just over the bar.
However, in the 28th minute a pass from Killie substitute David Watson, on for the injured Liam Donnelly, split the square Gers defence to find captain Kyle Vassell running clear on goal but Ibrox goalkeeper Butland raced out to block the shot with his foot.
That was enough to bring groans tumbling down from the stands but in the 41st minute, just as Killie sensed an opener was there for the taking, they conceded when Dessers' terrific raking pass sent McCausland through on goal and the Northern Ireland international drove low into the corner of the net.
The Light Blues did not take long to double their lead, Sima taking a cross into the box from Connor Goldson on his chest four minutes later, before turning and hammering the ball past Dennis from 12 yards for his 15th goal of the season before he goes on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Senegal.
Killie came out fighting at the start of the second half and there was VAR check for a penalty when McKenzie's cross struck the arm of defender John Souttar, in for suspended Leon Balogun, before going out.
Referee John Beaton went to his pitch-side monitor and then pointed to the spot with Armstrong giving Butland no chance.
It could have returned the nerves to Ibrox but three minutes later Cantwell converted a Yilmaz cross from close range for his second goal in three games.
Dennis saved a decent drive from Gers skipper James Tavernier and Dessers took too long when presented with a chance and was crowded out, before he was replaced by Wolves loanee Fabio Silva.
In the 75th minute Cantwell should have scored again with only Dennis to beat but shot straight at the keeper before Rangers continued to keep a spirited Rugby Park side at bay until the final whistle.
Rangers manager Philippe Clement: "I cannot explain to my players anymore what is handball and what is not after this game if we get a penalty against like this and a goal against like this three days after what happened at Celtic Park.
"I can't give them an explanation and that's difficult as a manager when you cannot give an explanation. It's not easy. Afterwards, we can laugh and it's not a big difference, it's 3-0 or 3-1.
"Just for the future, it needs to be clear for everybody what is handball and what is not handball and these two situations it's a little bit bizarre.
"This is one of the dangerous games where you'd be disappointed not to win. It's a few hours away from going on a break.
"It's the festive time when all the family are around, you are having a good time with drinks, food and a good life. The players had to recover really fast and then perform but they are doing that.
"They are on the right road. They understand my story, which is also important. This is that life is much better when you are ambitious every day. If you go in satisfied about what you did, then you go down.
"I told them in the dressing room they can switch off for a few days. Of course they need to do their programme. They cannot let their body do nothing for five or six days and then have a hard training camp, because then you're at risk of injuries.
"But outside of that they really need to switch off and enjoy their time with their families."
Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes: "We are a wee bit short in the midfield at the minute. We have three significant injuries so we will see how those play out over the next couple of weeks and we are only looking to try to do one bit of business, we are trying to bring in a forward player, other than that I am happy with the squad.
"I want us to get back on the horse really quickly when we come back and set about the task. I am really encouraged with what I am getting from these lads.
"The message at half-time was can we win the second half, get the next goal, don't go under, make sure we stick together and stick to what we want to do. The spirit in the team was terrific, everything I expected from them.
"We have been on a good run of late and clearly there are improvements in the side. We get a goal back and we just needed to keep it at 2-1 for longer."
The Scottish Premiership now stops for the winter break, with all teams returning to action in the Scottish Cup.
Rangers are away to League Two side Dumbarton on January 20 at 5.30pm.
Kilmarnock have and an all Scottish Premiership clash with Dundee on January 20. Kick-off 3pm.