Rangers 2-0 Livingston: Joe Aribo and Jermain Defoe help Steven Gerrard’s men go SIX points clear at top of Scottish Premiership
- Rangers have taken a six-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership table
- Steven Gerrard’s men beat Livingston 2-0 thanks to Joe Aribo and Jermain Defoe
- Aribo scored Rangers’ first goal with a tap in after Defoe’s shot had been saved
- Defoe then scored Rangers’ second goal with a volley into the bottom corner
- The top-class finish from Defoe saw him score his 300th club career goal
When these two sides played out a stalemate in August, the irate reaction suggested Rangers could be facing another season of the same old failings.
Too weak against the lesser lights of the Premiership. Too inconsistent to build a run of results. Too willing to let their title rivals off the hook. There was a familiar ring to the accusations levelled against them.
How utterly different the picture looks now. Belief has never seemed stronger that this could be a campaign when everything changes at Ibrox.
Rangers beat Livingston 2-0 thanks to goals from both Joe Aribo and Jermain Defoe
The result will see Steven Gerrard’s men go six-points clear at the top of the Premiership
Nothing less than three points would have sufficed here. Steven Gerrard’s side simply had to win to turn the screw on Celtic’s lapse at Pittodrie earlier in the afternoon. That task was completed.
Now six points clear at the top of the Premiership having played a game more, Rangers didn’t find their fluent best for parts of the afternoon. But they didn’t have to. Not after going two up inside the opening 16 minutes.
Joe Aribo’s opener was followed by a quite sublime finish from Jermain Defoe to mark his 300th career goal. The veteran’s impact was a reminder of the depth of attacking talent now at Gerrard’s disposal.
The floodgates didn’t open thereafter – and Livingston made far more of a fight of it after the break – but the outcome left Rangers unbeaten in 16 games across all competitions. Including 13 clean sheets. Those numbers put forward a clear argument for just how much they have improved.
With Celtic in Scottish Cup semi-final action next week, Gerrard’s men have the opportunity to grow their lead to nine points when they visit Rugby Park on Sunday.
These are the little targets they must continue to tick off. Having taken aim at their own feet when perched in promising positions in each of the past two seasons, Rangers must know mistakes from Celtic are merely an unexpected bonus.
Game by game, week by week, it is up to the Ibrox players to prove they have what it takes to succeed on their own terms. There are no short-cuts towards achieving their aims.
Livingston became their latest victims but Gary Holt’s team can draw heart from how much better they fared after the break. Withdrawing Efe Ambrose for Josh Mullin and changing shape upped both their share of territory and Allan McGregor’s workload. The West Lothian club remain four points clear of the bottom.
Aribo scored Rangers’ first goal with a tap in after Defoe’s initial shot had been saved
Defoe scored their second by volleying home James Tavernier’s long pass into the corner
After an unconvincing display from Alfredo Morelos against Standard Liege in midweek, his demotion to the bench here did not come as a shock. More surprising was the choice of replacement.
Neither Europa League hero Kemar Roofe nor Cedric Itten – a combined £6 million summer investment – was summoned. Instead, Defoe stepped in. It was a first start for the 38-year-old since a 2-0 win over Ross County way back on January 29.
Calvin Bassey, Filip Helander, Steven Davis and Joe Aribo were also introduced as Borna Barisic, Leon Balogun, Glen Kamara and Scott Arfield were rotated out of Gerrard’s line-up.
The question was whether altering half a team might led to a disruption in output. An answer was received inside nine minutes with a breakthrough goal born out of hunger to prize open opposition flaws.
Ambrose provided encouragement when he ran into Ryan Kent. The ricochet forced the ex-Celtic defender inside, where he was challenged again by Defoe to force possession to Hagi.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Bassey, Jack, Davis, Aribo, Hagi, Kent, Defoe
Substitutes: McLaughlin, Balogun, Barisic, Kamara, Arfield, Jones, Itten, Morelos, Roofe
Livingston: Stryjek, Brown, Guthrie, Ambrose, Serrano, Bartley, Sibbald, Devlin, Holt, Pittman, Emmanuel-Thomas
Substitutes: Taylor-Sinclair, Fitzwater, Pignatiello, Lawson, Mullin, Forrest, Robinson, Lokotsch, Poplatnik
The Romanian perfectly timed the release of his through pass for an on-the-move Defoe. His low shot was blocked by Max Stryjek, but Hagi was wide awake to follow up by sliding the ball back across the face of goal. Aribo was left with a simple finish for his second goal of the season.
There is a perception in some quarters that Hagi hasn’t quite made the impact expected following his £3 million move from Genk. This, however, was his eighth assist of the campaign already. His vision and composure are valuable assets.
Even Hagi would have to admit that the goal which doubled the lead on 16 minutes was just a little bit more special.
James Tavernier had to stretch to control a Steven Davis switch on his chest before striding forward and picking out Defoe’s run with a majestic lofted pass. That quality was more than matched by the finish. Without breaking stride, the former England man connected perfectly off his left foot to send the ball spearing low inside Stryjek’s left-hand post from about 12 yards.
It was an outstanding bit of football. One that emphatically justified Defoe’s selection. Little wonder Gerrard and Gary McAllister stood and applauded in unison at the edge of their technical area.
The top-class finish from Defoe saw him score his 300th club career goal against Livingston
Stryjek looked somewhat stunned as he again picked the ball out his net. His inclusion was forced upon Holt as Robby McCrorie is ineligible in games against his parent club. Any hope the Pole had repeating his August clean sheet in the reverse fixture had been obliterated in double-quick fashion.
He would have been relieved not to concede again before the break, making a decent stop from Ryan Jack. As it was, Livingston could actually have reduced their deficit from a 22nd minute chance.
Julien Serrano’s cross from the left came off Connor Goldson to deflect against the post. It broke for Jay Emmanuel-Thomas but the one-time Arsenal kid was caught on his heels and couldn’t capitalise against Allan McGregor.
Rangers sought a third goal to make things safe after but struggled to make the same inroads after a Kent cross from the left narrowly eluded Tavernier.
McGregor barking louder at his defenders gave a soundtrack to the subtle shifts in the match. First Scott Pittman was allowed a header wide. Then McGregor had to repel a drive from substitute Mullin at his near post.
But panic remained remained absent for Rangers. Jordan Jones came off the bench to sting Stryjek’s palms in stoppage time as another forward step was made.
Both sides held up ‘show racism the red card’ signs before kicking off the match
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