THE draw with Villarreal on Thursday night was the most eye-catching result of Steven Gerrard’s managerial career. Victory over St Johnstone was more important, though.

Rangers defied the odds to upset the Spaniards and get their Europa League campaign off to a hugely impressive start in midweek. But the shine would have been taken off that performance and result had they dropped points against Tommy Wright’s side at Ibrox.

Last season, that’s exactly what Rangers would have done. The Saints were one of the handful of teams to board the bus with a reward for their efforts during a lamentable term.

Gerrard knew that had to change if Rangers were to launch a challenge for the Premiership title and this 5-1 win is a further sign of the impact the 38-year-old has made in a short space of time.

James Tavernier and Alfredo Morelos had Gerrard’s side on course for victory with excellent first half strikes before Scott Arfield followed up his goal at El Madrigal with the one that secured all three points. It also ensured Rangers moved up to second spot in the standings.

A Blair Alston penalty was the only negative for Rangers as Kyle Lafferty and Daniel Candeias also found the net. It was efficient and clinical from Gerrard’s side, and just what was needed.

The last time Rangers returned from a European trip and went back into Premiership action, they turned in their worst performance of Gerrard’s reign and suffered their only defeat to date this term.

That Old Firm loss at Parkhead, even at that early stage of the campaign, was a key moment for Gerrard and his players. It was all about their reaction and the response has been impressive from the Light Blues.

The run of league fixtures following the international break was certainly more straightforward, on paper at least, and two wins have now been collected with relative ease. This time, there was no European hangover.

It would have been understandable if there had been a dip to Rangers’ play following their efforts in Villarreal but victory here was wrapped up with just over half an hour gone.

The news of Celtic’s last-minute defeat at Rugby Park filtered through the Ibrox stands before kick-off, while members of the Armed Forces lead the teams out and then abseiled from the roof of the Sandy Jardine Stand.

On a day when Rangers paid tribute to our Services, Gerrard needed his big guns to fire. Rangers stepped up when it mattered most.

St Johnstone had carved out the first chance of the afternoon as David Wotherspoon connected with a Drey Wright cross and curled an effort just over Allan McGregor’s bar.

But it was opposite number Zander Clark that had to pick the ball out of his net seconds later. From 20 yards, Tavernier’s bending, dipping free-kick left the keeper stranded and Rangers were off and running.

After a low-key start in the stands, the Ibrox crowd finally had something to get them on their feet and Rangers had taken control of the match.

Ryan Kent almost doubled their lead with a low shot that Clark did well to tip away after Morelos had sent the winger clean down the left. A scuffed effort from Nikola Katic didn’t trouble the Saints, but Richard Foster had to clear a header from Lassana Coulibaly minutes later.

The former Rangers right-back was having a tough time dealing with Kent and scythed him down as he burst towards the area. Tavernier again stepped up but his free-kick was just too high this time as the ball clipped the bar and Rangers were denied.

Gerrard’s side didn’t have to wait too long for their second goal, though. Tavernier was again involved as he split the Saints’ defence with a neat pass to Morelos.

The Colombian turned Joe Shaughnessy as he was left sprawling inside the area and then steadied himself before rifling the ball beyond Clark from a tight angle. It was a superb strike, and no more than Morelos had deserved for his shift in the first half.

The job was all-but done for Rangers and it didn’t take long for St Johnstone’s hopes of an unlikely recovery mission to be completely extinguished.

Morelos burst down the right and picked out Kent after he drifted in from the opposite flank. His shot was well struck but it rattled the bar.

Arfield was alert and after controlling the ball with his first touch, he scored with his second. With that, it became a case of damage limitation for the visitors.

Tony Watt had a chance to reduce their arrears as he clipped a shot over McGregor and wide of target but it was Rangers that continued to threaten as Morelos was denied from close range and Clark saved from Kent after a direct run. He also had to tip an Arfield free-kick over as Rangers looked to increase their lead.

With 15 minutes to go, they did. It was another flowing move from Rangers and Arfield slotted the ball to substitute Lafferty before the Northern Irishman found the far corner.

The clean sheet was the only box that Rangers had to tick now but Alston denied them as he converted from the spot. The award from referee Steven McLean looked soft but Alston made no mistake as McGregor was beaten.

Normal service was soon resumed, though, and Candeias restored the advantage. The Portuguese collected Arfield’s pass, shifted inside and left Clark with no chance as he rounded off his performance with a deserved strike.

It was no more than Rangers merited as they strolled to victory. On a day they just had to win, they did just that.