Rangers began their Scottish Premiership title defence on a winning note as goals from Ianis Hagi, Scott Wright and Kemar Roofe secured a 3-0 victory over Livingston at Ibrox.
Steven Gerrard’s side stormed their way to the title last season, winning the league by a 25-point margin, going the entire campaign unbeaten and surpassing the 100-point mark.
Hagi blasted the hosts in front within eight minutes, but the hosts struggled to create many more clear-cut openings as Livingston frustrated the champions. It wasn’t until his replacement Wright struck a sublime second (78) that the game was put to bed.
With Livingston beaten, Roofe pounced on a defensive mix-up to add a third (90).
The result means Rangers have now gone 40 league games unbeaten and have won nine of their last 10 league meetings with Livingston since a 1-0 defeat in September 2018, their first such match against them under Gerrard.
Rangers: McLaughlin (6), Tavernier (8), Goldson (7), Balogun (7), Bassey (6), Aribo (6), Davis (7), Hagi (7), Kamara (7), Sakala (6), Kent (7).
Subs: Lundstram (6), Wright (7), Roofe (6).
Livingston: Stryjek (6), McMillan (6), Fitzwater (6), Obileye (6), Lewis (5), Holt (6), Pitman (6), Sibbald (5), Forrest (5), Anderson (5), Penrice (5).
Subs: Devlin (5), Hamilton (5), Kabia (5).
Man of the match: James Tavernier.
How Rangers began title defence in style
Rangers won the 2020/21 Scottish Premiership title without losing a game, one of only four occasions that a team has remained unbeaten in a Scottish top-flight league season.
Gerrard named a strong team despite the absence of Alfredo Morelos, who was still in quarantine while new boy Nnamdi Ofoborh remained out as the club continue to deal with a heart issue.
With 23,000 fans returning to Ibrox for the curtain-raiser, the hosts needed just eight minutes to assert their superiority.
James Tavernier’s free-kick was killed instantly at the far post by Hagi, who chopped inside two Livingston defenders before reversing his shot beyond Max Stryjek.
“I’m not sure what James Penrice is doing coming inside. From a Livingston point of view, you’ve got to defend it better,” Kris Boyd told Sky Sports.
- Jon McLaughlin was selected in goal for Rangers as Allan McGregor was handed a place on the bench. James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Leon Balogun and Calvin Bassey made up the back back. John Lundstram was a substitute as Fashion Sakala made his competitive debut.
- Livingston were without midfielder Marvin Bartley, who was suspended after a two-match ban was carried over from last season.
It was a good finish from Hagi, who had been called upon to increase his output by Gerrard, but the game became a little stop-start before the Romanian was forced off with an injury sustained in a challenge from Adam Lewis.
It was a dominant first half from the champions despite their slender advantage, with the visitors failing to register an attempt of any note compared to Rangers’ four. Indeed, David Martindale’s side only managed two touches in the opposition box inside the opening 45 minutes.
The only disappointment for Gerrard was that his side hadn’t tested Stryjek more in the Livingston goal, with Tavernier’s rising shot from Hagi’s lay-off and Joe Aribo’s poked effort moments after the opener the closest the hosts came to extending their lead.
This was the first time Rangers kicked off a season as defending Scottish champions since 2011/12, but their somewhat lacklustre showing continued into the second period.
It took until the hour mark for the chance of a second to be forthcoming as Connor Goldson’s low ball into the box found Ryan Kent on the edge. Despite having so much time to control and shoot, he drew a comfortable save from Stryjek down to his left.
James McFadden told Sky Sports: “You expect Kent to do better from that position. Rangers are mostly attacking down the right-hand side, no surprise with Tavernier operating there.”
But Rangers would kill off the game in the final 12 minutes through a moment of real quality.
Tavernier was the architect again as he nodded on a high ball in the box, which Wright coolly collected before finishing from an angle outside of his right boot.
Roofe had looked sharp since replacing Fashion Sakala in the 71st minute – and he sniffed out a third in the final minute of normal time as sloppy Livingston defended allowed the former Leeds striker to tap home.
Rangers were far from their best, but they didn’t need to be in order to set the standard once again, making the perfect start to their title defence.
Rangers now go to Malmo in their Champions League third qualifying round first leg at 6pm on Tuesday, while Livington host Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership on Sunday August 8 at 3pm.