Rangers bounced back from their Portuguese pain as they dished out a Paisley pummeling with Kemar Roofe grabbing a hat-trick to warm up for their crucial return against Braga.
Roofe took his tally to the season for 16 with a treble against St Mirren and Joe Aribo netted a scorcher as Stephen Robinson’s side were pushed deeper into relegation trouble in the final pre-split fixture.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men had to win to keep their wafer-thin Scottish Premiership hopes alive and they strolled to three points, albeit against opposition on a horror run of form.
Still, the Ibrox men did the job with first half injuries to John Lundstram and Filip Helander the only thing to take the shine off the victory.
The win cut the gap at the top back to six points to Celtic leaders ahead of Thursday’s Euro showdown against Braga and what looks likely to be an Old Firm double header in the Scottish Cup followed by the first game after the split.
The visitors made five changes from the side that started in Portugal but it was still a strong looking line-up.
Aaron Ramsey failed to get off the bench in Braga but was in the XI here while Ryan Jack and Calvin Bassey were left out of the squad with Thursday’s Europa League return in mind.
Van Bronckhorst would have been hoping for the luxury of being to take some of his key men off if they could build up a commanding lead.
And that seemed to be on the cards when Rangers grabbed an early lead to give them a much-needed confidence boost.
James Tavernier’s cross found Ryan Kent at the back post and the Englishman floated a ball in for Roofe and he glanced at a header into the net.
The decision to go with a strong line-up could have been viewed as a risky move by Van Bronckhorst given they need a miracle in the league.
And they were hit with an injury blow when Lundstram was forced off with what appeared to be a groin issue as Steven Davis came on for his first club appearance since February.
Gers failed to build on their rapid start as the tempo dropped although Aaron Ramsey forced Dean Lyness into a low save.
Van Bronckhorst was forced into a second change before the break when Helander limped off although the Swede isn’t eligible for Europe with Leon King replacing him.
Rangers should have doubled their lead when Ramsey was picked out in the box but the Welshman crashed his effort off the crossbar.
However, the on-loan Juventus man helped make amends as he played his part in the build up to the second goal in first half injury time.
Ramsey fed the ball down the line for Tavernier and he delivered a perfect cross for Roofe to head his second of the game.
That two-goal cushion allowed Van Bronckhorst to take Ramsey and Kent out of the game with James Sands and Scott Wright on.
And the visitors were celebrating a third goal early in the second half with Roofe completing his hat-trick.
Fashion Sakala and Aribo linked well down the left before the ball was delivered to Roofe and he showed great determination after his initial shot was blocked to pounce on the rebound and lash home.
Amad Diallo was given a rare run-out from the bench and the on-loan Manchester United man squandered a couple of chances for a fourth goal, the second in particular a sitter after Sakala set him up.
Aribo showed him how it should be done with an exquisite finish into the top corner as the Saints defense allowed him far too much time and space after Wright fed the Nigeria international.
Here’s three talking points from Paisley:
The news that Alfredo Morelos was out for the rest of the season was a hammer blow to Rangers’ chances of silverware.
Morelos has been the main man up front for so long and replacing him has been a headache for Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Steven Gerrard before him.
Kemar Roofe was handed that chance when his team-mate was on international duty in February and flopped at Parkhead.
But Van Bronckhorst gave the former Leeds United and Anderlecht man another derby chance at Ibrox last week only for Roofe to again fail to take his opportunity against Celtic.
However, the 29-year-old showed his quality, albeit against relegation strugglers, with three well-taken goals and Gers have to try and play to his strengths if he’s going to lead the line in the coming weeks.
Rangers aren’t having much luck just now and even in victory Giovanni van Bronckhorst suffered a couple of injury blows.
John Lundstram and Filip Helander both limped off in the first half and that is the last thing the Ibrox boss needed.
Helander isn’t such an issue for Thursday with the Swede not included in the Europa League squad but Lundstram has been a key man on that stage.
And even the league title is beyond them there is still the small matter of an Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final to come so Van Bronckhorst will be hoping the duo aren’t out long term.
Stephen Robinson has now lost seven out of his eight games in charge – including one in the Scottish Cup – in a run that has to be a cause for real concern.
The Buddies are just six points ahead of second bottom St Johnstone going into the post split fixtures.
Jim Goodwin left Saints in a top six position when he departed Paisley for Aberdeen and even allowing for the blow of the Irishman’s sudden move they shouldn’t be in the position they are in now.
It’s a big spell coming up for former Motherwell boss Robinson with their defensive issues highlighted by the manager in the defeat to his old club last week again in evidence with 14 goals now conceded in their last three games.