Plenty that could go wrong did for Rangers yesterday. They lost Ryan Kent to a hamstring injury 41 minutes into his first appearance since his £7 million move from Liverpool. They lost the opening goal to an obdurate Livingston from the penalty spot early in the second period, and looked like they were losing their way in seeking to bounce back from their loss to Celtic.
The fact, then, they ultimately put matters right to run out comfortable-ish 3-1 winners would be a source of satisfaction for Steven Gerrard.
It was understandable that the Rangers manager focused on the winning more than the struggles that preceded it. The turnaround was helped by the 73rd-minute red card shown to
Lyndon Dykes by referee Willie Collum, the result of a second booking for catching Connor Goldson with an arm in an aerial challenge. It was one of a number of calls that Gary Holt lamented, but his Ibrox counterpart felt there could be no quibbling over the outcome.
“At half-time I put on a few of my match winners and said, ‘come on, we have 45 minutes to win a game.’ That was the challenge,” Gerrard said. “Unfortunately we took another setback as we didn’t get the early goal and conceded a penalty which made things more difficult and complicated. But I think that provoked us into our best. From going a goal down I thought we were excellent. We looked really dangerous and could have scored a few more.
"We showed a lot of character after going a goal down. Maybe earlier on in my tenure we would have panicked and maybe had a few players who would hide and not fancy it. The crowd can make things a little bit difficult when these type of things happen but the players stood up to it.”
Kent struggled to stand after sustaining a hamstring pull that left him hobbling off visibly distressed. Having arrived as a would-be saviour, being rendered so mortal by fate appeared a cruel twist.
“It’s a blow for me, it’s a blow for the club and it’s blow for the supporters,” said Gerrard. “He’s trained well all week and looked ready to go but unfortunately these things happen in football. That’s the only disappointment. We’ll assess him in the coming days but I predict he’ll be missing for a least a few weeks.”
Rangers’ edge appeared missing as Livingston sought to smother their attacking instincts in the opening period, doing so with the aid of the crossbar that bore the burnt of a fizzing effort from Scott Arfield midway through. The midfielder was then responsible for scything down Dykes in the 50th minute and conceding the penalty that allowed Steven Lawless to send Allan McGregor the wrong way with his subsequent penalty kick.
A curious equaliser followed five minutes later with a disputed free-kick out on the left that James Tavernier delivered and the ball was missed by all including goalkeeper Ross Stewart at his far post. Tavernier was then provider for the home side’s second in 71 minutes with a corner that Joe Aribo inadvertently flicked into the path of Alfredo Morelos, who powered a header high into the net. Kent’s replacement Brandon Barker wrapped up the victory in finishing off a move down the left by cutting inside and lashing the ball into the far corner.
Livingston had their moments in this period, Chris Erskine thumping the bar with a header, and Holt maintained they were undone by more than a Rangers rally. “The first goal for them I don’t think is a free-kick,“ he said.
“I thought Marvin [Bartley] won the ball [in the tackle with Morelos] and never touched him. Simple as that. Willie [Collum] said he won the ball and that if he didn’t win the ball he would have sent him off. How can you give a free-kick if you win the ball? Big Lyndon was exceptional and I don’t think it was a second yellow. It’s very harsh. It’s an aerial challenge. I saw it – he never threw his elbow. He has tried to get elevation, he has jumped and yes he caught him.”