The Lions suffered an opening day defeat in front of a sold out Tony Macaroni Arena on Saturday as they went down to a late Rangers comeback despite a valiant effort.
Joel Nouble had the hosts in front after just five minutes, but in a 101 second surge from last season’s Europa League finalists, Scott Arfield and James Tavernier completed a quick-fire double to claim all three points.
The opening day of the cinch Premiership season started with a bang for Livingston when Joel Nouble gave his side the lead on the five minute mark. Shamal George’s kick was met by the head of Nicky Devlin, and Nouble found himself the right side of John Souttar and with a shooting opportunity. With Jon McLaughlin off his line, the forward deftly lobbed the Rangers goalkeeper with a sensational finish to net his first competitive goal for the club – not a bad time to get it.
The hosts knew the next five to ten minutes was so important having just taken the lead, and defended astutely to protect their one goal advantage despite Rangers’ pressure.
Livi were soaking up pressure, and goalscorer Nouble was causing the visitors havoc with his hold-up play and ability to break as he drew Connor Goldson, John Souttar and Glen Kamara into first half yellow cards.
Despite dominating the ball, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s men actually created very few clear cut chances of note.
Stepping out from the back, Goldson played a one-two with Kamara before firing a low cross along the six yard box, but a superb clearance from Jack Fitzwater at the far post denied Antonio Colak who was waiting to pounce.
The Lions went in at the break the happier of the two sides, with their gamelan going to perfection. David Martindale’s men had been brilliant, but most knew that the visitors couldn’t possibly play as poorly in the second half. Scott Wright made way for Malik Tillman at the interval in an attempt to rescue the match.
Again, despite Rangers vastly controlling the ball, they didn’t do much with it and Livingston looked to break when they got the opportunity. Devlin’s clearance found Nouble who left Souttar for dead down the right and found himself with just Goldson and McLaughlin to beat. The forward twisted and turned to try and create a shooting opportunity inside the box to no avail, before receiving support from Stephane Omeonga. He cut the ball back to the Belgian, but his strike flew over the bar much to Rangers’ relief.
After the scare, the visitors ramped up the pressure and created a string of chances. Firstly, Colak had the ball in the net after he met a superb delivery from Ryan Kent with his head only to find himself marginally offside.
On 56 minutes, Livi had debutant Shamal George to thank as the keeper made an outstanding double save. Borna Barisic’s cross come shot looked like it was looping over the stopper and had to be acrobatically tipped onto the bar. After reverberating off the crossbar, the ball then rebounded off the post and into the path of Tillman, but George was there again. Whilst still on the floor from his earlier stop, he made himself big to deny the American from very close range.
Livingston were defending valiantly and had an inspired goalkeeper between the sticks. However, after these golden opportunities from Rangers, they were really battering down the door and it felt like only a matter of time before they’d find an equaliser.
On 72 minutes, that all-important goal came for Van Bronckhorst’s side through substitute Scott Arfield. On the left wing, Kent chopped inside and delivered a deep cross with his right foot which was met by the clever run of Arfield. The midfielder’s superbly executed flicked header had the right amount of power to beat George at the back post.
This burst the previously deflated away support into song, and there felt like a huge momentum shift inside the Tony Macaroni Arena. Straight after the equaliser, Rangers came forward had a golden opportunity to take the lead when Colak was tripped by Omeonga on the edge of the box.
There was only one man to take the set-piece, as captain James Tavernier whipped the free-kick around the wall to the goalkeeper’s side and saw his effort fly by Shamal George and into the far corner, the power just too much for the goalkeeper who had performed brilliantly.
Livingston, after leading for well over an hour, were stunned amidst the quick-fire double which just totally flipped the game on its head.
Rangers hoped to see the game out comfortably, but got away with a huge scare on 81 minutes when Ayo Obileye had the ball in the back of the net.
A long throw from Devlin was sent into the box, and flicked on to the defender who headed home, but referee Don Robertson had blown for a foul in the build-up for what can only be described as an extremely soft push, if any contact was made at all. The Lions have every right to feel aggrieved after being denied what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate equaliser.
Despite the scare, the Gers eventually ran out 2-1 victors in the end as they claimed all three points to start their season.
Livingston can take endless positives from the match though, after their valiant performance so very nearly caused an upset but for two superb strikes in quick succession late on. The visitors were expected to rock up and win with ease; but they go away knowing they were made to work for the victory after a very tough battle.
Up next for the Lions, it’s a trip to Tannadice to take on Dundee United on Sunday.
Match Report: Calum Brown
Livingston: George ▊, Devlin©️, Fitzwater, Obileye, Cancar ▊ (Montaño 34), Omeonga, Kelly ▊, Holt, Shinnie (Anderson 76), Pittman, Nouble
Subs not used: Konolov, Longridge, Brandon, Bitsindou, Bahamboula, Mullin
Goals: Nouble (5)
Rangers: McLaughlin, Tavernier, Goldson ▊, Souttar ▊ (Sands 67), Barisic, Kamara ▊ (Arfield 67), Lundstram, Lawrence, Wright (Tillman 45), Kent, Colak ▊
Subs not used: McGregor, Jack, Davis, Fashion, King, Devine
Goals: Arfield (71), Tavernier (75)
Referee: Don Robertson