Saints headed into Sunday’s clash with Rangers looking to bounce back from their disappointing defeat to Motherwell last week. Tommy Wright looked to start another unbeaten run by bringing Ross Callachan and Blair Alston back into the starting XI at the expense of Tony Watt and David McMillan, with joint top scorer Matty Kennedy taking up a more forwardly position.
A win over third placed Rangers would have been enough to take Saints up to fifth in the Scottish Premiership with a game in hand.
Saints got the game underway and came close to conceding early on as Andy Halliday was pressured into dragging a close range shot wide of Clark’s goal.
The home side's first chance came on nine minutes when an Alston cross evaded everyone and tenacity from Kennedy at the back post won a corner.
From the resulting corner, Alston’s attempted acrobatics were eventually cleared after an ongoing scramble on the edge of the Gers’ penalty area.
The best opportunity of the opening twenty minutes fell to the hosts, as a poor clearance from the Rangers back line fell to David Wotherspoon, who played in Kennedy inside the box but the winger’s cross was cleared before Callachan could convert.
Moments later Kennedy was again providing fantastic support, holding the ball up twenty yards from goal before laying off Murray Davidson who’s lob left Allan McGregor stranded but fell just wide.
Next to challenge Steven Gerrard’s back four was Callachan, who’s arced run forced a last ditch challenge to force a corner. Murray Davidson nodded the in swinger towards Liam Craig at the near post, but the long serving midfielder couldn’t convert the golden opportunity.
A tangle of legs in the Saints box managed to thwart Alfredo Morelos’s mazy run and the resolute defence blocked Lassana Coulibaly’s follow-up effort. Rangers’ Colombian striker came close again before Saints could clear, volleying wide from 16-yards.
Rangers were forced into an early switch, with Borna Barisic limping off for Lee Wallace with five minutes of the first half remaining.
And after good pressure throughout the first half, Saints got the lead they deserved as the clock struck 45 minutes, with Matty Kennedy showing superb composure to beat his man on the edge of the six yard box and lash beyond McGregor after great build up play.
Tommy Wright would have been asking his team for more of the same in the second half, with the Perth men going in at half time a goal to the good.
Gerrard made one change at half time, replacing Eros Grezda with Glenn Middleton.
Rangers got the second half started but the first real chance fell to Saints when Scott Tanser’s delivery was half cleared and former Rangers defender Richard Foster volleyed at goal from twenty yards, who watched McGregor, blinded by the sun, fumble his effort, gathering at the second attempt.
The first booking of the game was awarded to Liam Craig for a tussle with Connor Goldson.
Rangers final change came with over half an hour to go, as Kyle Lafferty replaced Coulibaly in a bid for an equaliser.
Goldson was next in the book, as Walsh caught the Englishman tripping Kennedy 35-yards from goal. From the set piece, Craig was unable to pick out Jason Kerr as Saints looked to double their advantage.
Rangers found the equaliser on 65 minutes with Morelos nodding past Zander Clark from close range. 1-1.
Within a minute of the restart, Kennedy came millimetres from retaking the lead, cutting in from the left and curling a 25 yard strike past McGregor and the post.
Blair Alston came close to grabbing his second goal against Rangers this season with 18 minutes left on the clock, as Davidson teed up the midfileder to blast at McGregor.
Rangers were hunting for a winner too and substitute Lafferty saw his close range effort cleared off the line by Kerr.
Saints first change came on 74 minutes as Tony Watt replaced David Wotherspoon and then brought Danny Swanson on with ten minutes to go for Kennedy.
Alston entered the book for a lunge on Tavernier as Rangers applied plenty of pressure in the later stages.
Saints almost found a late winner through Alston as a well rehearsed counter attack saw the midfielder latch onto a Foster cross but he headed narrowly over.
Rangers took the lead with a minute to go through Morelos, breaking Saints’ hearts after a fantastic battling performance.
Tony Watt was booked for Saints in a late flurry as Tommy Wright’s men looked to salvage a point.
After four minutes of injury time, Walsh blew for full time and it was agony for Saints.
Saints: Clark, Foster, Kerr, Shaughnessy, Tanser, Alston, Craig, Davidson, Callachan, Wotherspoon (Watt, 74), Kennedy (Swanson, 80). Unused subs: Hurst, Anderson, McMillan, Nydam, Gordon.
Goals: Kennedy (45)
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Worrall, Goldson, Barisic (Wallace, 35), McCrorie, Coulibaly (Lafferty, 74), Candieas, Grezda (Middletn, 46), Morelos. Unused subs: Foderingham, Flanagan, Rossiter, Katic.
Goals: Morelos (65), (88)
Referee: Nick Walsh Attendance: 7086
Man of the Match: Matty Kennedy.
Match report by Ross Gardiner.
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