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Sitting comfortably atop the Premiership table as the year comes to a close, Rangers will expect to complete their jam-packed schedule by getting the better of a depleted visiting side on Sunday.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst‘s team have now won their last seven league matches to open a six-point gap over Old Firm foes Celtic, who virus-stricken St Mirren miraculously held goalless in midweek.
It may have taken a 71st-minute James Tavernier penalty to separate the sides in the Govan club’s last outing, at home to Dundee United, but Rangers still managed to record a fifth successive Premiership triumph without conceding a goal.
Clearly, by building on the solid foundations provided by recently-departed manager Steven Gerrard, his successor has quickly forged a resolute side that look well-placed to retain their title come next spring.
One of only two clubs who voted for the league’s festive fixtures to go ahead as planned – with new Scottish Government rules limiting outdoor events to 500 spectators now coming into place – Rangers must finish the first part of their campaign a little early.
With the chance to extend an unbeaten league record at home – and their next competitive engagement now scheduled for mid-January, when they take on Aberdeen – the Light Blues will surely go all in to take three more points at Ibrox this weekend.
Rangers left-back Borna Barisic provided Giovanni van Bronckhorst with a boost by returning to training this week, after he was absent from the squad which took on Dundee United due to illness. Should the Croatia international be fit to start, then Nathan Patterson would return to his preferred flank after playing out of position at left-back last weekend.
Leon Balogun has also recently returned to the fold, which offers the hosts another defensive option, but Calvin Bassey could yet be retained as it is unlikely the former Wigan centre-back will be pitched straight into the starting XI on Sunday.
Van Bronckhorst has reported no fresh injury concerns, so only Ryan Jack, Kemar Roofe and Filip Helander are ruled out, with the latter continuing his recovery from knee surgery. The Sweden defender has been sidelined since September, but is expected to return to action after the upcoming break.
St Mirren, meanwhile, have been severely depleted by the COVID-19 outbreak which struck before the Celtic game, and they had to call up a number of their development team to play in midweek. In fact, they recalled six Under-18 players from Lowland League clubs to occupy the bench, but several men should be back for the Buddies on Boxing Day.
Former Rangers goalkeeper Jak Alnwick should return to the starting lineup at Ibrox, though Dean Lyness starred on Wednesday and would be unfortunate to make way. Teenagers Dylan Reid, Jay Henderson and debutant Kieran Offord may also stand down, depending on how many regulars are passed fit to feature.
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Conor McCarthy remains out with an ankle injury, so Joe Shaughnessy will once again lead a three-man defence – probably operating more as a back five – for Jim Goodwin’s side.
Rangers possible starting lineup:
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Bassey, Barisic; Arfield, Kamara, Aribo; Hagi, Kent, Morelos
St Mirren possible starting lineup:
Alnwick; Shaughnessy, Dunne, Fraser; Millar, Flynn, Power, Tanser; McGrath, Kiltie; Main