Rangers v Livingston: Champions get title defence started with win to set new club record
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Rangers v Livingston: Champions get title defence started with win to set new club record

Rangers kicked off the defence of their Scottish Premiership title with a 3-0 win over Livingston thanks to goals from Ianis Hagi, Scott Wright and Kemar Roofe as the Light Blues’ bid to quickly turn 55 into 56 started with three points and a clean sheet.

The win sets a new club record as the Gers picked up their 20th consecutive win in the Premiership at home for the first time and it never looked in doubt from the first whistle as the Gers picked up where they left off in May.

Gers boss Steven Gerrard sprung a few surprises in his starting XI for the curtain-raiser, leaving Allan McGregor on the bench to hand Jon McLaughlin a place in the side while leaving out Filip Helander and Borna Barisic altogether. Zambian international Fashion Sakala was given a competitive debut for the Light Blues but fellow summer signing John Lundstram had to settle for a place beside McGregor as Gerrard stuck by the midfield trio of Glen Kamara, Joe Aribo and Steven Davis after they were so influential last season.

While the traditional ‘Flag Day’ festivities were postponed until late next month, there was a real buzz around the Rangers support ahead of the game as they looked forward to seeing Gerrard’s side begin their first title defence in a decade and bring a sense of closure to the chaos that has engulfed the Ibrox giants since the last time the league flag was unfurled.

After more than 500 days, Rangers welcomed fans back into Ibrox for a competitive fixture for the first time since losing to Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League back in 2020 and for some of Steven Gerrard’s squad it is the first time they will have experienced anything close to the Edmiston Drive landmark’s incredible atmosphere when it is full and rocking; some 23,000 or so being allowed access as Covid restrictions slowly start to ease.

As the Invincible champions made their way onto the pitch, it wasn’t just the thousands in the stands paying tribute to the Light Blues as the Livingston players formed a guard of honour and applauded the Rangers stars onto the pitch before an impeccably observed minute’s silence was held in memory of Ibrox legend Ally Dawson following his death earlier this week.

Once John Beaton’s whistle signalled the end of the silence though, the roar that went up will have been heard some distance along the Paisley Road West as 55 was officially consigned to the history books and the race for 56 got underway in the southside of Glasgow.

It didn’t take long for Rangers to take control of the game and as soon as they did, the opening goal felt inevitable – taking seven minutes to arrive and coming from Ianis Hagi after some excellent footwork by the Romanian.

James Tavernier’s free-kick evaded everyone and fell for Hagi in the six-yard box and after taking a touch or two to get the ball out from under his feet and take a couple of Livi defenders out of the game, he rifled the ball home and almost lifted the roof of Ibrox as fans went absolutely ballistic.

It was a fantastic goal from the Rangers star as the Gers started confidently, but there was some concern for the Ibrox number 7 after he was wiped out by Liverpool loanee Adam Lewis and left needing lengthy treatment, earning the Livingston man a booking in the process.

With a massive Champions League tie on Tuesday night against Malmo, there were sighs of relief when Hagi finally got back to his feet and appeared to have suffered no lasting damage so early into the game.

Rangers looked in control and comfortable in possession, looking to add a second to further increase their advantage, Livingston leaving gaps for the Gers to exploit as they tried in vain to press their hosts and disrupt their flow. For the Light Blues,  it was very much a case of continuing where they left off last season.

Referee John Beaton was kept busy as some of Rangers’ play frustrated the visitors and brought out cynical challenges, earning Livi a couple of bookings in the opening 30 minutes.

The relief over Hagi seemed to have been misplaced though after his apparent earlier recovery, being forced off 31 minutes in to be replaced by Scott Wright and raising concerns over whether he’ll be fit to face Malmo in midweek after a strong start.

With Rangers very much in control of the game, there was a patience from the Light Blues in their build-up play, recycling the ball well and moving the Livingston players around to create openings but there were too many times when the final ball let the Gers down and brought promising moves to a halt.

(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Despite their dominance, there wasn’t to be a second goal before the break for Rangers, but as the players headed for the tunnel there was nothing from Livingston to suggest they were going to find a way back into the game without being gifted it by the hosts – Livi having two touches in the Rangers box in the opening 45.

The Gers started the second half in a similar – if slower – vein to the first, Scott Wright going close with a volley after some nice build-up play saw the ball sit up nicely for the substitute but he couldn’t keep his effort on target and test Max Styjek in the Livi goal.

After that chance though there was a real lull in proceedings, with the game very much feeling like an end-of-season game than the curtain-raiser for the new season and, despite the best efforts of the fans inside the ground, both sides looked happy to play out the rest of the game at half-tempo.

With just over an hour played, there was a competitive Rangers debut for John Lundstram when the former Sheffield United midfielder was brought on to replace Joe Aribo and add some energy into the middle of the park with the game having gone flat – and that feeding into the supporters in the stands too.

A final change for the Gers saw Kemar Roofe come on to replace debutant Fashion Sakala and see the game out, the Zambian having shown lots of hard work but struggling to really influence the game on his Premiership bow.

The second goal finally came for Rangers and, like the first, it was a fantastic strike for the Light Blues; Scott Wright finishing brilliantly with the outside of his boot to leave Styjek with absolutely no chance of keeping it out.

Wright’s goal hitting the back of the net eased the tension hanging over Ibrox as the players and fans alike feared a slip-up that could have handed the Lions an equaliser their play simply hadn’t deserved.

Seconds from the final whistle, it was 3-0 as Kemar Roofe, last season’s top scorer in the Premiership for Rangers, took advantage of a loose ball to fire home from close range and grab his first goal of the season.

Attention will now turn to Tuesday’s Champions League qualifier with Malmo in Sweden but the win over Livingston will live long in the memory of supporters as they finally made their return to Ibrox to cheer on a Rangers side defending the Premiership – even if the football itself was far from memorable.

Rangers: McLaughlin, Tavernier, Bassey, Goldson, Balogun, Davis, Kamara, Aribo, Kent, Hagi, Fashion Jr.
Subs: McGregor, Lundstram, Itten, Simpson, Patterson, Wright, Roofe.

Livingston: Stryjek, Lewis, Fitzwater, Obileye, McMillan, Holt, Sibbald, Pittman, Penrice, Forrest, Anderson
Subs: Barden, Devlin, Kelly, Montaño, Kabia, Reilly, Hamilton.

Read how Rangers fans reacted before the game when Gerrard’s starting XI was confirmed