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Livingston 0-2 Rangers: Joe Aribo and Alfredo Morelos strike

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Livingston 0-2 Rangers: Joe Aribo and Alfredo Morelos strike as visitors go level on points with leaders CelticJoe Aribo opened the scoring with a fine strike after being found by Scott ArfieldAlfredo Morelos doubled the lead with another great finish in the second halfRangers now sit second with only goal difference separating them from Celtic 

Livingston's home stadium has had a few weird and wonderful names through the years. It was Almondvale Stadium, then the Energy Assets Arena. The current incarnation is the Tony Macaroni Arena and the sooner they brand it the Quicksand Stadium the better.

Celtic lost their only game of the season in West Lothian. And, in a no bolds barred defence of his team in a newspaper Gary Holt promised to make this game both ‘ugly and unpleasant’ for Rangers.

Despite resting Steven Davis, the Ibrox kept their waist comfortably above the brown stuff by fighting fire with fire, marking Steven Gerrard’s 50th game as manager with a comfortable win which further underlined their credentials as serious challengers to Celtic.

The sight of Ryan Kent limping from the field once more was the first of only two negatives for the manager from an otherwise satisfying victory. The winger left the fray after 58 minutes when the game was already won. The second was the failure to return to the summit of the SPFL Premiership on goal difference by leapfrogging Celtic. God knows, they had opportunities

On the face of things Livingston was a risky place to start Joe Aribo. A fine footballer, the Nigerian international hasn’t always seemed comfortable with the aggression of the SPFL. Yet, the midfielder’s technical ability has never been in question.

For 32 minutes Rangers struggled to open up a Livingston side hellbent on dragging the visitors into a war of attrition. When they did Aribo was clinical.

His first Rangers league goal – a first of any kind since a strike against East Fife in mid-August – was a superb piece of finishing, the ball dispatched into the postage stamp corner after an exchange of passes between Scott Arfield and Alfredo Morelos. Akin to a rope in the quicksand Rangers powered their way to safety with a stunning finish from the Morelos for his 22nd goal of the season six minutes into the second half. This was another day when opponents had no idea how to counter the South American.

Renarkably Livingston’s only win in their last 10 games has come against the SPFL chanpions. Before an improbable victory over Celtic Holt’s team had also made life uncomfortable for Rangers in a narrow Betfred League Cup defeat. The return of the pacey and physical Lyndon Dykes up front after a three match absence promised another tough 90 minutes for £3.5m defender Filip Helander. 

Despite coming close to an immediate equaliser after Aribo’s opener, however, the Australian couldn’t do it all himself. Without influential captain Alan Lithgow - rushed to hospital for appendix surgery before the game – Livingston toiled here. They were well beaten in the end and, But for goalkeeper Matija Sarkic, Gerrard’s team would have tied things up by half-time.

The Englishman scrambled across his line to deny Ryan Jack a dipping, deflected opener after seven minutes as Rangers started brightly. He then produced a stunning save after the Aribo strike, pushing a netbound Glenn Kamara strike round the post as Rangers looked to double their lead.

Livingston’s physicality dominated the pre-match narrative. Holt took public exception to a suggestion from opposite number Gerrard that his team had been overly aggressive in the Betfred Cup defeat. His defence hung by a thread when full-back Jack McMillan was fortunate to escape a red card for late sliding challenge on Kamara after 21 minutes. By then Scott Pittman had already missed a fine chance to head his side into the lead.

A minute after Ryan Kent slammed a bouncing shot inches wide of the post from 20 yards Aribo struck and Rangers had their breakthrough.

Livingston will reflect on an immediate chance to equalise for Dykes. The hero against Celtic controlled a Pittman cross on his chest before slashing high and wide.

Nevertheless, the tone of the game had changed. Livingston’s best hope lay in dragging the visitors down to their level. A goal to the good Rangers bore the confidence of a team who knew they would finish the day on the same points as Celtic. The only question was whether they would finish the day first or second.

But for a stunning Sarkic save when Kent cut back to Kamara before half-time the goal difference would have looked a little healthier. It was merely delaying the inevitability of an Alfredo Morelos goal.

It came six minutes into the second half, killing any prospect of a Livingston revival.

When Borna Barisic fed the Colombian down the left channel Morelos looked a fraction offside. Given the benefit of the doubt he shrugged off Hakeen Odoffin and cut in from the left to squeeze the ball past Matijas Sarkic at the far post. Despite his heroics of the first half it was a poor angle for the Livi keeper to be beaten from. Swamped by teammates, adored by supporters, the striker made way for Jermain Defoe with eight minutes to play.

The first Rangers substitution of the game prompted a slightly different reaction, Kent unable to shake off an injury caused by a clash with Steve Lawson. The £7million signing succumbed to injury shortly after rejoining the Ibrox club. The international break could minimise the loss, with checks today likely to reveal the full extent of the damage.

The only other downside for Steven Gerrard was his side’s failure to ruthlessly hunt down the goals which might have taken them back to the top of the league

They came to within inches of a third when a fierce Borna Barisic drive from the edge of the area was scooped up onto the post by Sarkic. James Tavernier fired narrowly wide moments later.


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