St Johnstone 0-4 Rangers: Aluko nets hat-trick to give McCoist's side a strong ending to troubled campaign

Sone Aluko's second-half hat-trick ensured Rangers ended their campaign on a high, while leaving St Johnstone's European hopes in the balance.
Rangers put aside their off-field problems to fire four goals past St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, leaving the home side’s European ambitions hinging on the outcome of the Scottish Cup Final.

Lee McCulloch’s blistering 24th-minute strike gave the Gers a lead they looked unlikely to relinquish and Sone Aluko’s quickfire second-half hat-trick ensured Rangers ended their tumultuous campaign with a dominant three points.

The result leaves St Johnstone in 6th place and they must now hope Hearts overcome Hibernian in next weeks’ Cup final to confirm their place in Europe next season.

The Saints came into the match on a six-match winless streak which had severely dented their hopes of direct European qualification, and manager Steve Lomas made three changes from the team that went down 2-0 at Hearts last Sunday. Frazer Wright, Jamie Adams and Francisco Sandaza came in for David McCracken, Marcus Haber and the banned Murray Davidson.

Rangers’ season on the other hand has been engulfed by financial turmoil, although many of the Ibrox faithful would have been encouraged by the pre-match news that businessman Charles Green’s takeover of the club has been agreed.

On the pitch, Ally McCoist made a raft of changes with second place already secured, bringing in Kirk Broadfoot, Ross Perry and Rhys McCabe for Carlos Bocanegra, Jamie Ness and Dorin Goian, who missed out with a knee injury.

In blustery conditions at McDiarmid Park, it was the home side that made the better start and they were almost rewarded for their early endeavours when striker Cillian Sheridan’s towering header was beaten away by Allan McGregor.

In contrast, the Gers looked sluggish, unable to maintain possession and offering little attacking threat. They did however fashion their first sight of goal when a long ball caught out the Saints defence, but McCulloch could only direct his stooping header straight at Alan Mannus.

Rangers were starting to move through the gears and from Aluko’s through ball, Alejandro Bedoya should have done better than to wastefully blast over from 12 yards.

The Ibrox side’s increasing pressure eventually paid off in the 24th minute and in stunning fashion. Maurice Edu flicked a pass goalwards and from the edge of the area, and McCulloch hammered a first-time half-volley into the top corner for his fifth goal of the season.

After their shaky start, it was the away side that were growing into the game. Further half-chances followed for Lee Wallace, who saw his left footed effort deflected wide. Shortly after, McCulloch’s vehement claims for a penalty were waved away by referee Madden.

As half-time approached, Rangers were dominating proceedings with St Johnstone’s early attacking threat a rapidly fading memory. As it was, the Saints would have been happy to return to the dressing room only a goal down.

With European qualification still possible for St Johnstone, it was a surprise to see Rangers continue their first half dominance into the second.

On-loan centre-back Kyle Bartley was unfortunate to see his flying header pass over the top of the bar, but two minutes later the Gers doubled their advantage. Edu won the ball strongly in midfield and slipped a superb pass through for Aluko to fire a composed finish past Mannus for his 10th goal of the campaign.

Rangers were starting to slice through the Saint’s defence at will and six minutes later, Aluko grabbed his second. Steven Whittaker’s tenacity was rewarded when he pounced on a Callum Davidson mistake, allowing Bedoya to slide a precision pass across the six yard box for the former Aberdeen man to convert at the back post.

It didn’t take long for the on-form striker to secure his hat-trick. Wallace’s cross was only half cleared by the Saint’s defence and Aluko switched the ball quickly from right to left foot, before sending a rising drive into the top corner of Mannus’s goal.

Aluko’s final contribution of the game signalled an end to the scoring on what was ultimately a comfortable afternoon for Rangers. Their fans now turn their attention to off-field matters with Charles Green unveiling plans for his ownership of the club.

St Johnstone’s season and European qualification now rests upon the result of the Scottish Cup Final with a Hearts’ win the only chance for the Perth side’s representation in the Europa League.

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