Rangers started their Scottish Premiership title defense on a winning note as goals from Ianis Hagi, Scott Wright and Kemar Roofe secured a 3-0 victory over Livingston at Ibrox.
Steven Gerrard’s side made their way to the title last season, winning the league by a 25-point margin, remaining the entire campaign undefeated and surpassing the 100-point mark.
Hagi blasted the hosts in eight minutes, but the hosts struggled to create many sharper openings as Livingston frustrated the champions. It wasn’t until his replacement Wright hit a sublime second (78) that the match was put to bed.
With Livingston beaten, Roofe jumped into defensive confusion to add a third (90).
The result means the Rangers are now 40 league games unbeaten and have won nine of their last 10 league games with Livingston since a 1-0 loss in September 2018, their first such game against them under Gerrard.
Prowlers: McLaughlin (6), Tavernier (8), Goldson (7), Balogun (7), Bassey (6), Aribo (6), Davis (7), Hagi (7), Kamara (7), Sakala (6), Kent (7).
Subscribers: Lundstram (6), Wright (7), Roofe (7).
Livingston: Stryjek (6), McMillan (6), Fitzwater (6), Obileye (6), Lewis (5), Holt (6), Pitman (6), Sibbald (5), Forrest (5), Anderson (5), Penrice (5).
Subscribers: Devlin (5), Hamilton (5), Kabia (5).
Man of the match: Jacques Tavernier.
How the Rangers started the title defense in style
Rangers have won the 2020/21 Scottish Premiership title without losing a game, one of only four occasions a side have gone undefeated in a top Scottish league season.
Gerrard has named a strong squad despite the absence of Alfredo Morelos, who was still in quarantine while new boy Nnamdi Ofoborh has been absent as the club continue to grapple with a heart problem.
With 23,000 fans returning to Ibrox for the curtain call, the hosts only needed eight minutes to assert their superiority.
James Tavernier’s free kick was killed instantly at the far post by Hagi, who knocked out two Livingston defenders before reversing his shot past Max Stryjek.
“I don’t know what James Penrice is doing when he comes in. From Livingston’s point of view you have to defend him better,” Kris Boyd told Sky Sports.
- Jon McLaughlin was selected for Rangers goals as Allan McGregor secured a spot on the bench. James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Leon Balogun and Calvin Bassey made up the bottom four. John Lundstram was a replacement as Fashion Sakala made its competitive debut.
- Livingston was without midfielder Marvin Bartley, who was suspended after a two-game suspension from last season was postponed.
It was a good end for Hagi, who had been called in to step up production by Gerrard, but the game turned into a small stop-and-go before the Romanian was forced to injure himself during a challenge from Adam Lewis.
It was a dominant first half for the Champions despite their slim advantage, with the visitors not recording any scoring attempts against the Rangers’ four. Indeed, David Martindale’s team only managed two touches in the opponent’s box during the first 45 minutes.
The only disappointment for Gerrard was that his team hadn’t further tested Stryjek in Livingston’s goal, with Tavernier’s upward shot after Hagi’s layoff and Joe Aribo’s pushing effort moments after the first game on the closer to the hosts came to extend their lead.
It was the first time the Rangers had started a season as defending Scottish champions since 2011/12, but their somewhat lackluster performance continued into the second half.
It wasn’t until the hour mark that a second’s chance arose as Connor Goldson’s low ball in the box found Ryan Kent on the rim. Despite so much time to control and shoot, he pulled a comfortable stop from Stryjek to his left.
James McFadden told Sky Sports: “You would expect Kent to do better from this position. The Rangers mainly attack on the right side, it’s no surprise Tavernier is operating there.”
But the Rangers would kill the game in the final 12 minutes thanks to a real quality moment.
Tavernier was the architect again as he nodded at a ball high in the box, which Wright coolly recovered before finishing at an angle with the outside of his right boot.
Roofe has looked sharp since replacing Fashion Sakala in the 71st minute – and he sniffed a third in the last minute of regulation as Livingston’s sloppy defense allowed the former Leeds forward to go home.
The Rangers were far from their best, but they didn’t need to be to set the standard again, making a perfect start to their title defense.
What the managers said …
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard: “I thought it was good in big games, and we played with a lot of control. I thought from the first whistle until 1-0, we were great, playing with a real urgency and intensity that Livingston struggled with.
“I thought our mentality had changed at 1-0, we complicated the game a bit, and everyone was taking that extra touch, slowing it down.
“From 2-0 to the end of the game we were fantastic again, so it’s just that middle part where we have to take fewer hits and keep finding results – crosses, shots, to test the goalkeeper start.
“We knew we would have the whole ball, and the pressure was on us to get going as soon as we could, and I think we did.”
[Will Hagi be fit for Tuesday’s Champions League tie?] “Potentially gone, but we have good physiotherapists here, good doctors, so hopefully they can get the bunny out of the hat and get him ready for Tuesday because he’s going to be important to us.”
Livingston boss David Martindale: “It took us 15 minutes to figure out their form and what they were trying to do. We knew we were going to spend a lot of time in their half but we were disappointed with the opening goal because it came from a role play.
“I was quite happy at half-time because we reacted well and Max had no other stopping to make. Even if it was 1-0 you still have a chance in the game but it was still going. be tough. When they scored a second and we were forced down to 10 men because of an injury in the match, and when that happens at Ibrox, you’re done.
“The Rangers deserved to win the game, but I thought they were flattered by 3-0.”
Analysis: Big season for Roofe?
Kris Boyd on Sky Sports:
“You’re probably looking to create a little more. The Rangers have had a lot of the ball but haven’t fallen much behind. But on the first day of the season it’s going to be rust. three points, and Steven Gerrard will be delighted.
“I think it’s going to be a big season for Kemar Roofe. If he can run I think he’s that X factor in that central position for Rangers. Morelos has been really good, but I think Roofe can take it back. a level.”
Rangers now travel to Malmö in their Champions League third qualifying round first leg on Tuesday at 6 p.m., while Livingston welcomes Aberdeen to the Scottish Premiership on Sunday 8 August at 3 p.m.
The Rangers are back in domestic action at Dundee United next Saturday, live on Sky Sports Football; coverage begins at 12 noon with kick-off at 12:30 p.m.