THIS was a night where the main ambition for Rangers was to avoid defeat. On Sunday, the only aim is to emerge victorious.

St Johnstone would earn a share of the spoils against Steven Gerrard’s side but the champions remain on course for an unbeaten Premiership campaign.

A Liam Craig penalty cancelled out Scott Wright’s strike as Rangers were denied another win to add to their incredible tally this term. In the grand scheme of things, that fact matters little.

The invincible campaign remains a realistic ambition and just three fixtures – against Celtic, Livingston and Aberdeen – are between the champions and that goal.

In the season that title 55 was won, it would be quite the feat to mark a historic campaign with.

The chance to win a second piece of silverware is more significant, though, and Callum Davidson’s side will stand in their way for the second time this week when they head to Ibrox on Sunday.

The Saints will do so targeting a double of their own this term and this draw will only increase their confidence levels as they seek to cause an upset and return to the scene of their Betfred Cup triumph next month.

Gerrard had hinted in the aftermath of the Old Firm victory on Sunday that he would make alterations to his starting line-up for this fixture. One or two switches were always likely, but he would elect to make seven as Rangers sought their fourth win of the campaign over the Saints.

The most significant change saw the return of captain James Tavernier. The right-back has seen Nathan Patterson ably deputise in his absence since sustaining a knee injury against Royal Antwerp in February but his presence here was a significant boost for Rangers.

Tavernier had to watch on as Gerrard’s side clinched the title, fell short in the Europa League and then earned their place in the last eight of the Scottish Cup and he will now play a leading role in the final weeks of the campaign.

Patterson has been a stand-out performer in recent times but having Tavernier fit and available is clearly a real source of encouragement for Gerrard and supporters as they seek to add the Scottish Cup to their Premiership title next month.

Rangers naturally wanted to win this one, but Sunday was always going to mean more by some considerable distance and there will surely be more verve and determination about the champions at Ibrox as they seek to take another step on the road to Hampden.

It was understandable that their performance was somewhat lackadaisical during a largely uninspiring first half but they were fortunate that a sloppy start didn’t have them behind at the break.

Craig forced McLaughlin into action inside three minutes, while Guy Melamed should have done better with a header just seconds later. The striker wouldn’t last much longer, though, as he received treatment on the park and then walked off, appearing to be suffering from blurred vision.

A chance for Jack Simpson was wasted as he headed over at the back post, while Wright couldn’t collect the ball and finish after being picked out by Kemar Roofe as he dinked a neat ball over the top of the St Johnstone defence.

There was a real end of season feel about this one. As the whistle blew on a goalless first half, there was already a sense that both teams would be happy with a point and to regroup ahead of their return meeting on Sunday evening.

Few of those that Gerrard had given an opportunity to had grabbed it and staked their claim for a cup start but Wright would show what he is capable of with a fine finish to break the deadlock.

The forward had time and space on the edge of the area and he would pick his spot well as he placed a neat effort beyond Clark after 55 minutes. The first goal of the game was also his first for Gerrard’s side since moving from Aberdeen.

The lead could only have lasted a couple of minutes and the night finally had a flashpoint as St Johnstone were awarded and then denied a penalty. At the end of the uncertainty, Rangers’ advantage remained intact.

Referee Euan Anderson had penalised Borna Barisic for a foul on Shaun Rooney and Craig stood ready to take the spot-kick as Rangers protested.

After consulting with linesman Frank Connor, Anderson changed his mind, the decision was reversed and St Johnstone were left bemused as they regrouped and looked to find a way back into the game.

While the lead remained at just the one goal, Davidson’s side always had a chance of taking something from this one but Rangers weren’t exactly under siege and a handball appeal against Simpson was dismissed by the officials.

In the final seconds, another penalty claim was raised and this time St Johnstone got their reward. Simpson was adjudged to have handled a Chris Kane strike and the decision would go against Rangers.

Craig stepped up and would convert emphatically as McLaughlin went the right way but was left with no chance.

It was the last kick of an evening that will be largely forgettable come the end of the campaign. That same cannot be said of what will unfold the next time these two meet.