Rangers need more Champions League pluses after minuses in comeback Livingston win

One fact says all about the nature of Rangers’ 2-1 fightback success in their cinch Premiership curtain-raiser at Livingston. Giovanni van Bronckhorst would have bags to scribble into both ledger columns marked ‘minuses’ and ‘pluses’.

Rangers Scott Arfield (not in frame) flicks his header past Livingston's Shamal George to make it 1-1 and flip the encounter eventually won 2-1 by Giovanni van Bronckhorst's men. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Rangers Scott Arfield (not in frame) flicks his header past Livingston's Shamal George to make it 1-1 and flip the encounter eventually won 2-1 by Giovanni van Bronckhorst's men. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Ultimately, on the plastic pitch of a West Lothian side who tore after them like a pack of ravenous wolves, it would have been enough for the Dutchman that his team found a way to win. Really, ths is the only requirement on the first day of a 38-game league season. Especially for a team who must juggle European commitments in the short-term, with the first leg of their Champions League third round qualifier away to Union Saint-Gilloise rolling around on Tuesday.

Rangers will require to up the ante for that tie from much of what they produced against a predictably awkward Livingston. Giovanni van Bronckhorst acknowledged his disquiet with how his team handled - or rather failed to handle - the home side’s fifth-minute goalscorer Joel Nouble. And the iffyness of John Souttar in the build-up to that strike, could have repercussions for the summer arrival in midweek. The Scotland international wasn’t alone in displaying an inability to suppress a Nouble that his manager David Martindale rightly compared to Lyndon Dykes. The English forward’s ability to marry soft feet and concrete physique proved an almighty challenge for so many opponents in a first period that had them struggling to catch breath facing down a typically up-and-at-’em home team. A half wherein three were booked through resorting to illegal means to halt him.

However, Souttar’s sleepiness when a free-kick hoisted into the final third by keeper Shamal George was knocked down by Nicky Devlin to Nouble was particularly excruciating. He allowed the attacker to drift behind him as if he didn’t know he was there, before a delightful dink left Jon McLaughlin with no chance. It was no co-incidence that Souttar was withdrawn in favour of James Sands after 67th minute. It proved one of two crucial changes with Scott Arfield also then replacing Glen Kamara. A mere six minutes later, he produced a trademark run into the box to apply a glancing header from a diagonal ball in by Ryan Kent to make it all square. Seconds later James Tavernier later capitalised on questionable positioning from the new Livingston keeper to add to his collection of free-kick counters.

Before Rangers extricated themselves from a difficult position, they escaped further punishment with Nouble passing up a couple of other glimpses of goal. However, as the energy levels dropped from their hosts, they gradually took charge and were in complete control from the early stages of the second period. Only a tight offside call when Antonio Colak headed in just after the break prevented them beginning their comeback at that juncture, but the pattern the encounter had then began to take meant it never really seemed they would be denied the three points by the final whistle.

The Ibrox side’s mettle - instrumental in their run to the Europa League final last season - cannot then be doubted. Their Livingston victory then was a case of enduring early teething problems but avoiding lasting pain. It could be a case of the same in Leuven on Tuesday if they don’t start how they finished in West Lothian.

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