Livingston 1-3 Rangers: Story of the match as Giovanni van Bronckhorst continues his winning start as manager of the Scottish champions

On a pitch which is never going to suit the kind of ‘Total Football’ which Giovanni van Bronckhorst was reared on and is fundamental to his coaching philosophy, the new Rangers manager showed he possesses the adaptability and pragmatism needed to claim the kind of victories which are the staple of any title-winning side.

Scott Arfield lobs the ball home to open the scoring for Rangers at Livingston on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

The Scottish champions reinforced their position at the top of the Premiership table with a win over Livingston which wasn’t without its moments of discomfort but ultimately saw them see it out with conviction.

Two early goals from Scott Arfield and Joe Aribo looked to have put Rangers in cruise control as van Bronckhorst took charge of them for the first time on league business.

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But Bruce Anderson’s reply for Livingston put the outcome back in the balance with Rangers again indebted to veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor for a fabulous save which prevented a leveller.

Joe Aribo scores to put Rangers 2-0 ahead in their Premiership match at Livingston. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Substitute Fashion Sakala’s late goal was just reward for a largely dominant second half display from the Ibrox men as they look to gather momentum under their Dutch coach.

In what seems likely to be a regular feature of van Bronckhorst’s tenure, he made another tactical adjustment to a line-up which saw just one change in personnel as Arfield came in to replace Steven Davis.

After deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation against Sparta Prague on Thursday night, van Bronckhorst reverted to a 4-3-3 which necessitated another positional switch for Aribo. Having been in the ‘number 10’ role in the win over Spata, he moved to the left of a central midfield trio which had Arfield on the right and Glen Kamara in a deeper central position.

It all came together effectively for Rangers in a dominant opening spell which saw them threaten to put the game out of Livingston’s reach in rapid order.

Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor makes a stunning save to deny Alan Forrest's close range effort for Livingston. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

The synthetic playing surface, which had been cleared of snow an hour before kick-off, was not wholly conducive to the kind of pacy possession football van Bronckhorst wants to implement but his team mixed it up well with some more direct play.

It brought them the eighth minute opener when James Tavernier’s lofted ball over the top of the Livingston defence picked out Arfield’s well-timed run in behind them. The midfielder took a touch before coolly and precisely lobbing the ball over Max Stryjek.

There was almost an immediate riposte from the hosts when Odin Bailey took advantage of some sluggish defending to rap in a shot which McGregor did well to save.

But Rangers were soon back on the front foot and Alfredo Morelos might have done better than flash a shot across the face of goal after he had been played in by Ianis Hagi’s clever pass.

The Romanian playmaker was the instigator when Rangers did make it 2-0 in the 16th minute. His fine crossfield pass from right to left was controlled by Ryan Kent who dissected a couple of defenders with a neat ball inside the penalty area to Morelos.

The striker shuffled it sideways into the path of Aribo whose shot looped over Stryjek and went in off the underside of the crossbar.

It all looked so comfortable for Rangers at this stage but, not for the first time this season, they were undone for not getting the defensive basics right when Livingston halved their deficit on the half hour mark.

Jack Fitzwater’s long through ball should have been comfortably dealt with by either Tavernier or Connor Goldson but neither player committed themselves to it, allowing Alan Forrest to break free. His shot was parried by McGregor but the goalkeeper was unable to prevent Anderson heading home from the rebound.

Livingston were very much back in contention and Rangers required a remarkable intervention from McGregor to keep them in front at the break. It was vintage stuff from the 39-year-old as he threw up a hand to turn over a close range effort from Forrest after a Bailey cross had caused more uncertainty in the visitors’ defence.

There was a renewed sense of urgency from Rangers at the start of the second half, albeit they had to restrain it for around 10 minutes as a barrage of snowballs thrown into Stryjek’s penalty area by the visiting fans behind his goal delayed proceedings.

When the action did resume, Hagi saw a shot blocked by Tom Parkes and then had another effort saved by Stryjek as Rangers probed for the insurance of a third goal.

Chances continued to come their way with Stryjek producing a fine save to touch over a rasping shot from Aribo before Arfield blazed over from a good position after being set up by Hagi.

Hope remained for Livingston but while they occasionally forced set pieces in threatening positions, they were unable to carve out any further clear-cut openings for an equaliser.

Rangers finally put the issue to bed when they made it 3-1 with 12 minutes remaining.

The introduction of Sakala and Nathan Patterson for the closing stages gave them a fresh burst of energy down both flanks and when they earned a corner on the right, Tavernier swung the ball over right into the heart of the six yard box.

Sakala timed his run and jump perfectly as he rose unchallenged to thump a tremendous header beyond Stryjek.

Livingston (3-4-2-1): Stryjek, Devlin, Fitzwater, Parkes; McMillan (Penrice 59), Holt, Omeonga, Montano; Bailey (Kabia 79), Forrest; Anderson (Shinnie 59). Subs not used: Maley, Longridge, Sibbald, Panayiotou.

Rangers: (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Bassey, Barisic; Arfield, Kamara, Aribo; Hagi (Patterson 73), Morelos (Defoe 90+2), Kent (Sakala 73). Subs not used: McLaughlin, Lundstram, Davis, Wright.

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