Livingston suffered a narrow defeat at Ibrox on Wednesday night as last season’s champions struck late on to remain four points clear of 2nd placed Celtic.
It was always going to be a tough task for The Lions, with Rangers expected to dominate possession and create numerous chances on home soil. That’s exactly how the first half panned out, but the visitors stood up to the challenge.
It was actually Livi who created the first chance of the game though, when Odin Bailey found himself on the edge of the box. The on-loan Birmingham man tried his luck from distance, but it was catching practice in the end for Allan McGregor.
Rangers’ first clear-cut chance of the game fell to Scott Wright. The winger had beaten Max Stryjek with his shot, but Jack Fitzwater had read the game brilliantly to sprint back and position himself perfectly on the line to prevent a certain goal.
Young midfielder Alex Lowry was in fine form, dazzling the Ibrox crowd with some trickery during his first start for the club after a sub appearance in the Scottish Cup five days previously.
The 18-year-old beat two Livingston players on the left before heading to the byline and cutting back a sumptuous cross, but there were no takers as the ball was eventually cleared.
After soaking up the pressure, Livi came forward themselves and had a great opportunity to take the lead. Bailey’s corner was met by the head of Fitzwater whose goal bound effort was blocked on the line by Lowry. The Livingston players were furious and surrounded the referee with claims of handball that were waved away despite the ball striking the youngster on his outstretched arm.
Before the break, some good work from James Tavernier provided a chance for the hosts. The full back’s low cross was met by Fashion Sakala, but a combination of great defending and goalkeeping from Nicky Devlin and Max Stryjek diverted the ball wide of the target.
Into the second half, and Rangers kept pushing for an opener as the Ibrox crowd started to get restless and frustrated. Livingston were defending fantastically and dealing with everything that Van Bronckhorst’s men had to throw at them.
The first chance of the second half saw Tavernier’s cross find Cedric Itten in the box, but the Swiss headed wide from close range.
Rangers were relentless though, and their strength in numbers showed as Van Bronckhorst called on the cavalry on the bench. Keane Roofe and Scott Arfield were brought on after an hour, and 15 minutes later Rangers finally had the all-important goal.
Borna Barisic clipped a ball in from the left-hand side and it was met by Scott Arfield. The midfielder’s inventive flick towards the back post looped over Stryjek and into the far corner as the substitute went wild, giving Rangers a late lead.
The goal looked like it would be the winner, but to The Lions’ credit they pushed forward in search of an equaliser when it would’ve been easier to sit back and accept defeat.
Centre back Ayo Obileye was placed up front for the final stages of the match, and Jack McMillan’s cross presented the defender with a golden opportunity right at the death. McMillan’s whipped delivery found Obileye in the box but the defender couldn’t make contact with the ball despite swinging a leg at it as Livi came agonisingly close to snatching a point.
The visitors had defended admirably but it wasn’t to be on the night. David Martindale, his staff and his players can take a lot of pride in the performance despite coming away with nothing.
Match Report: Calum Brown
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson ▊, Bassey, Barisic, Kamara, Sands (Arfield 59), Lowry, Wright (Jack 76), Sakala, Itten (Roofe 59)
Subs not used: McLaughlin, Simpson, King, Lundstram, McCann, Barker
Goals: Arfield (75)
Livingston: Stryjek, Devlin, Fitzwater, Obileye, Longridge ▊ (McMillan 76), Holt, Omeonga ▊, Pittman, Bailey (Chukwuemeka8 0), Shinnie (Forrest 76), Anderson (Nouble 65)
Subs not used: Maley, Boyes, Lewis, Jacobs, Montaño
Referee: Don Robertson