Tavernier Turns the Tide On Opening Day
Goals from Scott Arfield and James Tavernier cancelled out Joel Nouble’s opener as Rangers defeated Livingston 2-1 in the opening game of the season. Two goals in two minutes saw Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side take all three points from the Tony Macaroni Arena.
The home side lined up with summer signing Shamal George making his first appearance for the club, following his move from Colchester United. There was also a start for Australian Phillip Cancar who had earned a start following his Man of the Match display the previous week against Kelty Hearts. Rangers handed competitive debuts to new signings John Souttar, Tom Lawrence and Antonio Colak, with Jon McLaughlin starting ahead of Allan McGregor in goal.
As expected, the away side dominated possession but it was Livi who made the early breakthrough. A Shamal George free kick was nodded on by captain Nicky Devlin, leading to Joel Nouble getting the better of Souttar and delightfully lobbing McLaughlin to give the Lions the lead in five minutes. The goal was Nouble’s first for the West Lothian side, building upon his impressive reputation built through last season’s loan spell at Arbroath.
Despite having most of the ball, Rangers would struggle to create many openings against a tight Livingston defence, with their best chance coming through Conor Goldson’s cross being cleared by Jack Fitzwater as Colak was about to pounce. Ayo Obileye was closest to scoring and doubling the lead for Livi but his header was comfortably saved by McLaughlin.
The home side may have been lucky to end the first half with eleven men, with Phillip Cancar walking the tightrope. A foul on Scott Wright following an earlier booking could have well seen the Australian sent off but Don Robertson gave the defender the benefit of the doubt. This however prompted an early substitution from Livi, with David Martindale replacing Cancar with Christian Montano.
Following half-time, Livingston threatened yet again through Nouble, with the forward again getting the better of Souttar and racing toward goal. Goldson was able to slow the forward down with Nouble forced to lay the ball off to Stephane Omeonga but the Belgian’s effort went well over the bar.
Rangers began to create clearer openings and were denied an equaliser through Antonio Colak who was flagged offside as he headed in. A deep Borna Barisic cross almost caught out George in the Livingston goal, with the goalkeeper then making a terrific point-blank save from Malik Tillman.
A double change from Rangers saw Jamie Sands and Scott Arfield with the former making an instant impact off the bench. Following terrific wide play from Ryan Kent, the Englishman swung in a cross which Arfield expertly flicked on into the back of the net. Arfield has now scored in each of the last three meetings between the two sides, with the midfielder enjoying a good spell against his local team.
Rangers pressed immediately for a winner, winning a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas. The away side were unable to capitalise through Borna Barasic but went ahead through captain James Tavernier. The Rangers captain fired in a free kick from 20 yards to send their huge away support into jubilation and give the away side the goal they were desperately looking for.
Livingston thought they had snatched an equaliser through Ayo Obileye at a long throw, but Don Robertson had adjudged that there was a foul in the build-up.
Tavernier’s goal wound up making the difference for Rangers who start the season with three points that they had to dig deep for. Livingston will find many positives in an impressive showing against the title contenders, with their season not being defined in games like these. Rangers now travel to Belgium to face Royale Union in the Champions League qualifiers on Tuesday before hosting Kilmarnock in the league, with Livi away to Dundee United next Sunday.