Livingston 0 - 0 Rangers: Gerrard’s men back on top but rue missed chance

Ibrox side’s hopes of taking full advantage of Celtic’s two postponed fixtures dashed as Livingston hold firm

Rangers' Scott Arfield cuts a frustrated figure during the first half at the Tony Macaroni Arena. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Rangers returned to the top of the Premiership table but that was where any sense of satisfaction started and ended for Steven Gerrard on what was a deeply frustrating afternoon for his team in West Lothian.

Their hopes of taking full advantage of Celtic’s two postponed fixtures in the aftermath of Boli Bolingoli’s breach of Covid-19 protocol were ended as they dropped their first two points of the season against a gritty and robust Livingston outfit.

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Rangers leapfrogged Hibs to lead the way on goal difference but there can be no avoiding the sense, even this early in the campaign, that this was an opportunity missed to crank up some pressure on their Old Firm rivals in the title race.

The Ibrox side monopolised the ball throughout but lacked a cutting edge, their play perhaps too deliberate at times to create the number of clear-cut scoring chances Gerrard would have wanted to see.

Rangers quickly established almost total dominance of possession but found their hosts predictably difficult to break down.

It took Gerrard’s men until the 13th minute to engineer their first attempt at goal when a James Tavernier corner broke for Ryan Kent whose shot was blocked by Jon Guthrie. The ball appeared to ricochet against the defender’s hand but Rangers’ appeals for a penalty were dismissed by referee Nick Walsh.

Ianis Hagi then tried his luck from distance but his low shot slid wide of the right-hand post of Max Stryjek, the Polish goalkeeper making his debut for Livingston as Robby McCrorie had to sit out the game against his parent club.

The absence of QPR-bound Lyndon Dykes from the Livi line-up saw Jack Hamilton handed the task of leading the line and the 20-year-old provided a few uncomfortable moments in aerial challenges with Rangers defender Filip Helander.

But Livingston were scarcely seen as an attacking force as Rangers moved the ball around patiently. Scott Arfield, back in the starting line-up as a replacement for the injured Joe Aribo, was next to threaten for Rangers as he raced onto a through ball from Ryan Jack but Stryjek was quickly off his line to snuff out the danger.

Alfredo Morelos was seeing little in the way of meaningful ammunition but he might have done better in the 20th minute when he failed to make a clean connection with a close-range header after being picked out by a fine Tavernier cross.

The Colombian striker created his next opportunity by himself, outmuscling Jack Fitzwater to surge into the penalty area before smashing a shot just wide of Stryjek’s left-hand post.

Rangers’ full-backs Tavernier and Borna Barisic had all the licence they wanted to get forward and support their attack against the deep-lying and well organised Livingston defence. But the visitors were unable to take advantage of some excellent deliveries from both men, such as when Arfield sent a header widely off target after being found by Tavernier.

There was a rare moment of concern for the Rangers defence when Livingston captain Marvin Bartley burst free on the right but his low cross was cut out by the vigilant Arfield.

In stoppage time of what was a frustrating first half for Rangers, they came close from a set piece when Helander flashed a header over from a Tavernier corner.

Livingston were clearly more than content to try and maintain the stalemate, the limits of their ambition exemplified when Stryjek was warned for time-wasting just six minutes into the second half.

In contrast, Rangers tried to up the tempo and get the ball into their attacking third of the pitch far quicker. A powerful shot from Kent was punched away less than convincingly by Stryjek, then Morelos dragged a left-foot shot wide of the goalkeeper’s left-hand post from around 20 yards.

Gerrard introduced Kemar Roofe and Brandon Barker in a bid to inject more pace and energy into his side with Arfield and the lacklustre Hagi making way.

Morelos was becoming increasingly frustrated and was booked for a show of dissent towards referee Walsh. The Colombian looked out of touch, as when both he and Connor Goldson were both unable to get a clean strike at goal during a frenzied scramble around the edge of the Livingston six-yard box. Morelos was replaced by Cedric Itten shortly afterwards.

Rangers remained camped in the Livingston half for most of the time but they were almost caught out by an audacious shot from inside his own half by Craig Sibbald which forced Jon McLaughlin to scramble backwards to make his first save of the game in the 83rd minute.

Two minutes later, Barisic thought he had made the breakthrough for Rangers with a superbly struck free-kick after Glen Kamara had been fouled just outside the box by former Rangers midfielder Jason Holt. But the Croat was left holding his head in disbelief as Stryjek got across to make a fine save at his top left-hand corner.

In the second of five additional minutes at the end of the second half, Kent worked himself into a great position just outside the area but wastefully sent his shot wide of Stryjek’s post.

It proved to be Rangers’ last chance to salvage maximum points and the celebrations of the Livingston players at full-time underlined how precious a share of the spoils they considered it to be.

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