Glasgow: A stoppage time header from Joe Garner helped Rangers come from behind to beat Partick Thistle 2-1 on Sunday and ensure they will at least contest the Europa League qualifiers.
Rangers — whose hopes of the title on their return to the Scottish elite were dashed as bitter rivals Celtic steamrollered them and all opposition — will definitely finish in the top four giving them a consolation prize of a place at European club football’s secondary competition.
Despite a lively start from Rangers, it was Thistle who opened the scoring in the 14th minute as Kris Doolan sent a powerful header into the net for his fifth goal in six matches.
The home side looked on course for their first win over Rangers since 1993 until the 83rd minute when substitute Barrie McKay produced a fine finish to level matters.
With time running out, Garner popped up in the fourth minute of stoppage time to head home a winner that moves them six points behind second place Aberdeen ahead of their match against Hearts later on Sunday.
It all but all guarantees Rangers third place as they lead St Johnstone, who lost 4-1 to champions Celtic on Saturday, by nine points with three games remaining.
Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha said his side showed character to claw their way back into the match.
“The game smiled for us. We prefer to die trying than live just waiting to see what happens,” he said.
“I need to really congratulate the players because they had a very good second half that got this result.”
It is a hard defeat for Thistle to take with history repeating itself as Rangers came from behind with two late goals — just as they did back in November.
“It’s deja vu in terms of Rangers and it’s happened to us too many times this year conceding late goals,” a deflated Thistle manager Alan Archibald said.
“It’s really disappointing and it’s something we really need to address.”
Thistle who took the lead as they exposed the Rangers defence with a quick counter.
Steven Lawless fed Christie Elliott, whose cross was headed past Wes Foderingham by Doolan.
Thistle went close to extending their lead with Niall Keown heading narrowly over before Foderingham made a great last-ditch save to deny Ryan Edwards in the six-yard box.
Thistle came close again when Foderingham had to be alert to tip a looping header from Lawless over the bar.
McKay replaced Jason Holt in midfield and his first contribution was to set up Garner, but he blasted his effort over with time and space.
The Rangers winger showed Garner how to execute with more finesse.
A long ball over the top was brought down by McKay, who chipped the ball between two defenders before poking the ball low past Tomas Cerny.
Rangers were emboldened by the goal and Garner got on the end of a Kenny Miller cross to power his header into the net for the winner.