Livi slipped to their first defeat of the season as Rangers came from behind to secure all three points in an entertaining encounter at Ibrox.
Stevie Lawless’ penalty had given the Lions a shock lead but goals from James Tavernier, Alfredo Morelos and Brandon Barker ensures Steven Gerrard’s side took the three points. Livi’s cause wasn’t helped when Lyndon Dykes was sent off for a second booking late on.
Gary Holt made a welcome return to the dugout after missing the win over St Mirren with illness and the Lions boss made two changes to his starting line up as Ricki Lamie and Keaghan Jacobs came in for Alan Lithgow and Aymen Souda.
It was the home side who, unsurprisingly, made most of the early running but Livi were doing well to keep them at bay, although Morelos was able to get in behind the Lions’ defence on 11 minutes but could only fire a fierce effort over the bar. Scott Arfield then came even closer to breaking the deadlock with a fine strike that cannoned back off the crossbar.
Morelos went close again for Rangers on the half hour as he met Sheyi Ojo’s cross but could only head straight at Ross Stewart in the Livi goal. Ojo then tried his luck from the edge of the box four minutes later but his curling effort was, again, straight at Stewart.
The home side then suffered a blow five minutes before the break as Ryan Kent, who had just rejoined the club in a £7million deal from Liverpool, limped off with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Barker. Livi then offered their first threat three minutes later when Lawless’ free kick fell to captain-for-the-day Marvin Bartley and, after his shot was blocked, Jacobs could only send a tame effort wide as the sides went in at the break on level terms.
Half-time: Rangers 0-0 Livingston
The second half was barely 30 seconds old when the Livi were handed a great chance to take the lead as Dykes was tripped in the box and referee Willie Collum pointed to the spot. Lawless stepped up to send Allan McGregor the wrong way and give the Lions an unexpected lead.
Dykes picked up a yellow card on 49 minutes before Stewart made a fine save to deny Morelos two minutes later. The Colombian then shot wide from the edge of the box shortly after. Rangers’ pressure eventually tolled on 55 minutes as they drew level but the Lions will feel it was an avoidable goal as a free kick from Tavernier bounced all the way through and into the net at the far post.
Robbie Crawford picked up a yellow card for a foul on Ojo on 58 minutes before a moment of controversy when Nicky Devlin thought he had fired the Lions back in front only for the referee to rule it out for what looked a very soft foul in the build-up.
Livi came within a whisker of making it 2-1 on 61 minutes when Jacobs’ corner from the right was met by Chris Erskine but his header crashed back off the crossbar. Morelos then stung the palms of Stewart at the other end with a fierce effort two minutes later. Rangers were then grateful to McGregor for preserving parity on 63 minutes when another corner found Dykes and he brought the ball down before firing in a low effort that the home stopper did brilliantly to keep out.
Arfield went close on 67 minutes as he fired in a low strike that looked destined for the bottom corner before Stewart made a terrific diving save to keep it out. Livi then made their first change a minute later, Scott Robinson replacing Erskine before passing up another huge chance on 70 minutes when Jacobs’ free kick found Lamie but he could only head over the bar from close range.
The Lions would quickly be punished for that miss as Rangers went up the other end and took the lead when Tavernier’s cross from the right was met by Morelos and he bulleted a header past Stewart from six yards. Livi responded well and came close to equalising barely a minute later when Robinson teed up Crawford but his low shot was saved by McGregor.
Livi’s hopes of getting back into the game were dented on 73 minutes when Dykes was shown a second yellow card after an aerial challenge with Connor Goldson. Rangers then made a change soon after, Andy King replacing Joe Aribo. Ojo then saw an effort deflected just wide on 77 minutes before Livi sent on Aymen Souda for Jacobs to try and spark a revival.
It wasn’t to be, though, as Rangers put the game beyond doubt ten minutes from time when Barker fired home from close range. Jermain Defoe then replaced Morelos for the home side moments later before Cece Pepe came on for Lamie in the Lions’ final change.
The home side saw out the remaining minutes comfortably to secure the three points, leaving the Lions to wonder what might have been having had so many chances while the scores level, as well as Devlin’s disallowed goal, although they travelled back along the M8 with their heads held high after an encouraging performance against the big-spending Ibrox side.
Full-time: Rangers 3-1 Livingston
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Katic, Goldson, Halliday, Davis, Aribo (King 75), Arfield, Ojo, Kent (Barker 41), Morelos (Defoe 80)
Subs not used: Foderingham, Helander, Barisic, Kamara
Goals: Tavernier (55), Morelos (71), Barker (79)
Livingston: Stewart, Devlin, Lamie (Pepe 82), Guthrie, McMillan, Jacobs (Souda 78), Bartley, Crawford, Erskine (Robinson 69), Lawless, Dykes
Subs not used: Sarkic, Savane, Stobbs, Tiffoney
Goals: Lawless (47 pen)
Referee: Willie Collum
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Photos: Rae Irvine