THE blow wasn’t fatal but the damage was self-inflicted once again from Rangers as Alfredo Morelos lost his cool and Steven Gerrard’s side lost the game.

Defeat to Aberdeen may have cost the Gers top spot in the Premiership but it won’t end their ambitions of launching a challenge for the silverware this season.

It did give an indication, if any further was needed, of the consequences of their actions, though, and the price they could pay if a problem isn’t quickly addressed.

The red card that Morelos was shown in the second half was the eighth that has been flashed at one of Gerrard’s players already this season.

The Colombian has three on his record, although the one he wrongly received against the Dons at Pittodrie was later rescinded. His dismissal in Ufa wasn’t overturned, though.

Neither was the one that Jon Flanagan got on the same night, nor those dished out to Ross McCrorie, Daniel Candeias, twice, or Scott Arfield.

Gerrard had warned his players about their disciplinary record following Arfield’s sending off in the win over Hearts on Sunday. Just hours later, his point was proven.

When Sam Cosgrove was sent off in the first half at Ibrox, Rangers had to have victory in their sights as they attempted to recover from falling behind to Scott McKenna’s seventh minute opener. It would turn into a disheartening evening, though.

Gerrard once again stressed the importance of keeping 11 men on the park as he reflected on a frustrating defeat and defender Gareth McAuley knows the message from the manager has to sink in soon.

“He has put a marker down that we need to be better as a group,” he said. “Playing with 10 men, the number of times it has happened, can take its toll on the players - especially with the number of games some of the lads have played already.

“You lose important players for important games, you lose match winners for big games and that’s a frustration for all of us.

“Yeah, definitely [I understand his anger]. People play on the edge, you have to play on the edge to be a winner. There’s no getting away from that.

“But you also have a responsibility to your team-mates to have some self control. If you are in a situation when you are on a yellow card, you need to make sure you stay on the pitch for your team-mates.”

Morelos was rightly let off the hook following his first dismissal of the campaign as the Scottish FA reversed the decision to penalise him for an incident with McKenna.

But the striker could have no complaints about seeing red this time around as, already on a booking, he stupidly threw an arm towards Graeme Shinnie as he battled for the ball in the middle of the park.

McAuley said: “We are not pointing fingers or anything like that. Yeah, it made it tougher when Alfredo went off.

“He plays on the edge and has won us games before. The biggest disappointment is that we now lose him for a couple of games.

“It is a good dressing room. It is well policed around the training ground and in the dressing room. We have spoken about it even when the manager wasn’t in the dressing room.

“So it has been touched on but we need to nail that down because it could possibly cost us.”

The dismissal of Cosgrove should have been the spark that Rangers needed to clinch the win that would have kept them top of the Premiership standings.

But a lacklustre performance in the final third didn’t give Ibrox much hope and those ambitions were further dashed when Morelos headed up the tunnel with 25 minutes remaining.

Almost a year to the day since he rejected the chance to become Rangers boss, Derek McInnes had his second win at Ibrox with Aberdeen.

The sense of satisfaction amongst the Reds contrasted starkly with the mood in the Light Blues camp on a night that was undoubtedly an opportunity missed for Rangers.

“We were sitting in the dressing room looking at ourselves after the game,” McAuley said. “Our standards dropped individually and as a team. That’s why we lost the game.

“I’m not sure [if we couldn’t cope with being top]. It was the first time in a long time the club had been top of the league. We didn’t talk about that before the game.

“The focus was on winning game. We knew what Aberdeen were going to do and they did it very well.

“They won a lot of free-kicks in the first half, put a lot of balls into the box and scored off one of them. We were disappointed we didn’t defend that better. That’s why we are looking at our own performance as our own downfall.”

Having moved top of the table with that win over Hearts on Sunday, Rangers could now find themselves third when they take to the field at Dens Park this weekend.

The teams either side of them – Kilmarnock and Celtic – will meet at Parkhead tomorrow but the focus from Gerrard and his players is all on the task in hand against Dundee.

McAuley “Second is nowhere at this club - that’s it. We need to make sure we win on Sunday and win going forward.

“It’s a massive club and you have a massive responsibility on and off the pitch to make sure we win. We want to get back to the top of the league and stay there.

“It’s certainly different to clubs I’ve played at before. It’s intense but it’s enjoyable. It’s a great pressure.

“That demand to win, day in and day out, is what you should have as a footballer. Everyone here has the desire as a group to go and challenge.

“From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a really competitive league. It’s a tough league, it’s tight. We know we have work to do.

“Bubbling under the surface we have that desire to do the hard work. We’ll get back on the training pitch and hopefully put it right on Sunday.”