There were fireworks in Livingston as Rangers beat Livingston 1-0 at the Tony Macaroni Arena with Steven Gerrard sent off for foul and abusive language towards John Beaton after a scandalous decision by the official, Alfredo Morelos scored a late winner – as well as actual fireworks above the stadium.
Gerrard made two changes to the side that faced Royal Antwerp six days ago, as Nathan Patterson came in for his first league start in place of the injured Leon Balogun, while Scott Arfield replaced Ianis Hagi.
Livi made four changes following Sunday’s League Cup final defeat at Hampden by St Johnstone, David Martindale dropping Efe Ambrose, Steve Lawson and Scott Robinson to the bench, to replaced by Jack Fitzwater, Craig Sibbald and Gavin Reilly while Robby McCrorie was ineligible to play so was replaced in goals by Max Stryjek.
🆕 Tonight's #RangersFC team to face Livingston.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) March 3, 2021
With the Light Blues knowing they could be just two more wins (and a Celtic slip up) from the title, Gers fans were hoping to see their side take control of the game early on and avoid a potential banana skin in West Lothian – the two sides drawing 0-0 in Livingston earlier this season.
The early stages of the game were pretty flat though, both sides feeling each other out and seeing plenty of the ball without either keeper having any meaningful involvement.
After the dull opening 15 minutes, Rangers slowly started to take a bit more control of the game with Joe Aribo looking the most likely to make something happen for the visitors.
Livi were forced into a change after 20 minutes when Reilly appeared to pull his hamstring chasing the ball down, Scott Robinson taking his place.
Rangers’ best chance of the opening half an hour came through Aribo when the Nigerian’s driving run saw his low pass to Morelos almost diverted beyond Stryjek.
Fil Helander was then busy at both ends, first making a strong tackle and block as Livi tried to attack then going within inches of breaking the deadlock with a powerful header from Barisic’s corner.
Ten minutes before the break, Rangers thought they should have had a penalty, Morelos going down under a challenge by Stryjek but referee John Beaton wrongly decided El Bufalo had dived – with even Andy Walker thinking the ref got it wrong.
The Gers came close again, Arfield this time trying his luck but the Livingston-born Canadian saw his shot just trickle wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.
With an ever-growing band of fans watching the game from outside the stadium, Gerrard will have been frustrated at seeing his side go in level and with the lackluster performance as they close in on the title – but the drama was still to come.
With the teams walking off at the break Gerrard was, rightly berating John Beaton before being sent off in a flurry of cards shown by Beaton as he lost all control.
Dive or penalty? 🤔
Alfredo Morelos is booked for simulation when going down in the area 👀
📺 Watch Livingston v Rangers live on Sky Sports Football now pic.twitter.com/DYoTa18GBf
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) March 3, 2021
Five minutes after the restart, Ranger had the ball in the back of the net through Connor Goldson but the joy was short-lived as the linesman’s flag went up and spared Livi.
It was a promising start to the second half and things took a bizarre twist as a fireworks display erupted above the stadium, with some of the debris landing on the pitch and causing a brief stoppage.
The Gers kept probing the Livi defence in search of an opener but clear-cut chances were few and far between as they made heavy work of Martindale’s side.
Despite the flat tempo and lack of openings, the Gers looked reluctant to turn to the bench and introduce fresh legs – despite the game crying out for it – before Cedric Itten finally replaced Scott Arfield with 18 minutes left.
Morelos again had the chance to finally break the deadlock, breaking down the right but pulling his shot just wide of the far post when he really should have done better with only the keeper to beat.
Rangers kept finding chances though, Morelos heading inches wide of the post from Goldson’s knock-down but the Light Blues had the look of a team who could play another 90 minutes and struggle to score.
Then they did exactly that.
Some lovely interplay saw the ball fall to Morelos a yard or two out and the Colombian simply tapped the ball into the back of the net.
Kamara, Itten and Davis all played vital parts in the goal, Davis’ saved shot falling for Morelos, and it moves the Gers closer to a potential title party on Sunday.
Livingston: Stryjek, Devlin, Fitzwater, Guthrie, Serrano, Bartley, Holt, Sibbald, Pittman, Mullin, Reilly.
Subs: Maley, McMillan, Taylor-Sinclair, Ambrose, Lawson, Kabia, Forrest, Tiffoney & Robinson.
Rangers: McGregor, Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Davis, Kamara, Arfield, Kent, Aribo, Morelos.
Subs: McLaughlin, Bassey, Simpson, Hagi, Defoe, Itten, Zungu, Wright, Stewart.
Here’s how Rangers fans reacted when Gerrard’s starting XI was confirmed before the match