Cruise control and records - how Rangers began title defence in style against Livingston

The new cinch Premiership season opened up for Rangers in the fashion Steven Gerrard’s men spent much of their title-winning campaign: cruise control, racking up records.

Ianis Hagi opened the scoring for Rangers in the 3-0 win over Livingston. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

A club best 20th straight home league win was never in doubt following Ianis Hagi’s seventh minute opener against a Livingston side that made no discernible impression.

If Gerrard’s men could have been bothered, there was any number of goals for them from an encounter that ultimately required two late counters to end 3-0. Instead, Rangers’ mojo went walkies once the vibrant Hagi was lost on the half hour with an ankle knock, sustained when he was earlier wiped out by on-loan Liverpool loanee Adam Lewis.

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A fizzing start from the champions in front of a 23,000-strong fired-up support – the club denying written journalists access, they said, to accommodate as many supporters under current Covid-19 restrictions – precipitated a fizzling out.

Rangers meandered through much of the next hour. It made no sense to extend themselves needlessly when a monumental Champions League qualifier faces them at Malmo on Tuesday. Livingston, who have signed no fewer than 16 players across the summer, could have fielded them all at Ibrox without success when their aimless route-one football allowed their hosts permanent possession of the ball.

The sort of playing-within-themselves win that allowed Rangers to walk to the title by an eye-watering 25-point margin, if faced with such non-existent challenges they will be able to knock these off with their eyes closed across their title defence.

It might nark Gerrard his team didn’t move the ball quickly enough to construct clear openings for long stretches, Fashion Sakala’s debut in attack largely an exercise in anonymity before he gave way to Kemar Roofe in 71 minutes. The substitute benefited from Livingston requiring to play up the last 10 minutes with 10 men – the result of Jaze Kabia hobbling off injured with David Martindale having committed the defender as one of the three substitutes teams are once again allowed.

With the visitors bedraggled, even clearing their lines became too much. Roofe punished them for that, pounced on a ball knocked across the face of goal to knock in his team’s third on the 90th minute.

Defending was equally inept for the earlier goals, though that should take nothing away from Hagi, or his replacement Scott Wright. In the 78th minute, with Kabia stricken, a bit of head tennis in the visitors’ box resulted in James Tavernier glancing a header to the former Aberdeen man. Met first-time with the outside of his righ-foot, he blurred into the top corner.

Tavernier’s second assist, a free-kick from wide on the right channel set-up Hagi for an opener Rangers chased with relish from the off. Floated beyond the back post, where the Romanian was on his lonely-ownsome in the six-yard box, the 22-year-old trapped the ball exquisitely with his left before taking out five players by cutting it on to his right and battering in.

Rangers: McLaughlin; Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey; Aribo (Lunstram 64), Davis, Hagi (Wright 31); Kamara, Salaka (Roofe 71), Kent. Subs: McGregor, Itten, Simpson, Patterson.

Livingston: Stryjek; McMillan, Fitzwater, Obileye, Lewis (Kabia 56); Holt, Pittman, Sibbald (Devlin 64); Forrest, Anderson (Hamilton 67), Penrice. Subs: Barden, Montfano, Reilly, Kelly.