Rangers 2-1 Aberdeen: Neil Warnock suffers defeat in his first game in charge as Rabbi Matondo and Todd Cantwell strike to earn all three points… after Dujon Sterling was sent off in the final moments for the hosts

The last time Rangers played Aberdeen at Ibrox, the final whistle was the trigger for angry boos and the acrid whiff of cordite. What a difference four months makes.

A dismal 3-1 defeat for the home team left Michael Beale with nowhere to hide. The gap between Rangers and Celtic was becoming a chasm.

Rangers now find themselves in a very different place. Undeterred by a contentious straight red card for substitute Dujon Sterling in the final minutes, Philippe Clement’s side drew level with Celtic on points at the summit of the Premiership after a rousing victory.

The significance of the result was lost on no one. While Rangers fell short of the three-goal margin needed to go clear at the summit, this was a night which felt decisive in the title race.

Players punched the air, supporters clapped and cheered their team from the field, the subway loyal stayed put until the last breath.

Rabbi Matondo wheels away in celebration after opening the scoring against Aberdeen

The Rangers forward's strike helped kick-start the 2-1 victory at Ibrox on Tuesday evening

The Rangers forward’s strike helped kick-start the 2-1 victory at Ibrox on Tuesday evening

Neil Warnock watched on as his Aberdeen side came up short in his first game in charge

Neil Warnock watched on as his Aberdeen side came up short in his first game in charge

The roar which accompanied the winning Rangers goal almost removed the old place from its foundations. The game delicately poised, nerves creeping into the home support, there were 18 minutes to play when a thumping long-range drive from Tom Lawrence was pushed out by Aberdeen keeper Kelle Roos.

At fault for the first Rangers goal, this one was a decent save. As with Rabbi Matondo’s opener, however, he palmed the ball straight to a Rangers player.

Todd Cantwell showed quick reactions to rattle the ball through the legs of the Aberdeen keeper for his fifth goal in eight games before disappearing into a heaving mass of Rangers supporters in the Copland Stand.

Despite the defeat, new Aberdeen boss Neil Warnock enjoyed his first experience of Scottish football.

Appointed interim boss until the summer, the veteran Yorkshireman says what he likes and likes what he says and, god knows, he says plenty. This game was only 40 seconds old when he was nipping in the ear of the nearest assistant referee.

In an era when old school is coded language for ‘dinosaur’, the old boy’s methods should never be confused for rocket science. He organises teams, puts a smile on their face, grants them a bit of freedom and asks them to put their bodies on the line.

Asked afterwards if that would be enough to secure a top-six finish, he joked: ‘I don’t know. When you are 75 you only look at the next game, don’t you? You don’t look much further than that do you, bloody hell.’

Aberdeen are a team specialising in nabbing goals out of nothing against Celtic and Rangers. When Bojan Miovski is leading the line, it helps no end.

Aberdeen's Bojan Miovski scores their side's first - and only - goal of the game

Aberdeen’s Bojan Miovski scores their side’s first – and only – goal of the game

Things had looked up for Aberdeen, who went into the break level with the hosts

Things had looked up for Aberdeen, who went into the break level with the hosts

The Macedonian nabbed his 20th goal of the season in the final minutes of a first half when the Dons were pinned back, unable to find a way out. In games against the big two, it’s becoming a recurring theme.

Just as the board went up for three minutes added time, Connor Barron lobbed a hopeful ball into the Rangers penalty area.

Feeding on scraps, Aberdeen’s main man had Connor Goldson in trouble from the moment the ball bounced, outmuscling the defender to nick in behind, keep his composure and nonchalantly lob the ball into the net past Jack Butland. It was a goal from nowhere.

Rangers had taken the lead after seven minutes in a thunderous, intense start to the game when they threatened to send Warnock back to Devon to think again.

Ross McCausland took advantage of a slip by Jonny Hayes to find the space to fire a raking low shot at goal. A decent effort, it was no thunderbolt. Dutch keeper Roos should have dealt with it.

When he spilled the ball at the feet of Welsh winger Matondo, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Rangers had the start of their dreams.

There was an energy, a positivity and a unity in those early stages Aberdeen couldn’t cope with. Rangers had won all 16 of their league games when they had taken the lead this season. After a start like that, the record would hold up here.

It was a tense and tight affair before Todd Cantwell found a winner during the second-half

It was a tense and tight affair before Todd Cantwell found a winner during the second-half

Matondo blew a glorious chance to double his tally – and the lead – when he surged onto a slide-rule Cantwell pass on the left flank. The winger cut inside two defenders at pace before being gripped by indecision. When he should have stroked the ball past Roos for one of the goals of his life, he dithered and took a bad touch. The chance was gone.

The timing of Miovski’s composed leveller could hardly be better. To take something, they had to drain energy and the positivity of the home crowd. They had to summon up the spirit of their last two league games against the title challengers and they needed goalkeeper Roos to up his game.

Redemption of sorts for the Rangers goal came after 56 minutes with a double save. The first from a Matondo shot was almost a repeat of his first-half error as he punched it straight to the feet of Cyriel Dessers. The second was a super stop, a flag from the assistant referee doing nothing to change that.

The response of Clement was decisive, the Belgian whipping off both Matondo and Dessers and replacing them with Fabio Silva and new signing Oscar Cortes. Silva, in particular, made a difference.

When Roos produced a brilliant goalline block with his right foot from Tom Lawrence, Aberdeen breathed again. The next time Lawrence struck there would be no reprieve, Cantwell thumping the second ball into the net after a block from the keeper.

It was never a straightforward win. Substitiute Dujon Sterling had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes when a rash, out of control challenge on Aberdeen left-back Jack Mckenzie drew an immediate red card from referee Don Robertson.

Rangers full-back Dujon Sterling was sent off during the final moments of the match

Rangers full-back Dujon Sterling was sent off during the final moments of the match

Urged to take a look at the VAR monitor that usually only means one thing. This time, the referee stood by his decision and Sterling was sent packing. Rangers felt the score should have been evened up when Duk’s flailing elbow pole axed Goldson, a yellow card the punishment.

The anger would have been off the charts had Duk’s free-kick in the eighth minute of added time dipped the right side of the post. Miovski came close to an equaliser during a goalmouth melee, as well, when a tumbling Goldson came dangerously close to blocking with his arm.

Through the melee Rangers held firm. The forward momentum of Clement’s team is becoming difficult to contain.

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