THREE new signings, three goals and a brilliant start to the season for Rangers who were missing arguably the four most influential players in their squad.
Skipper Barry Ferguson was suspended, Lorenzo Amoruso and Ronald de Boer were injured while Tore Andre Flo was a surprise omission after becoming the victim of a training knock.
Rangers, however, coped without them quite admirably as they stormed to what turned out to be a comfortable win at a venue where Dick Advocaat has never lost a league match.
What cheered the fans even further was the fact that all three summer signings got on the scoresheet with Christian Nerlinger, Russell Latapy and Claudio Caniggia all netting in their first SPL match as Rangers players.
It sets things up nicely for Wednesday’s Euro return against Maribor which is surely academic in any case, and if the fans are looking for an omen, the last time Rangers opened the season at Pittodrie in season 1977/78 they won the Treble!
The Dons came flying out of their traps as expected and as is usual in this fixture, in an attempt to unsettle Rangers – especially the likes of Christian Nerlinger who was experiencing the SPL for the first time.
And they had Rangers rattled in the early moments with their pressing play and competitive attitude. Dick Advocaat’s plight was not helped by some sloppy defending at set-pieces – something which has been a concern to him – as Rangers looked susceptible from a Robbie Winters freekick and then Darren Young’s corner.
During this early period Bert Konterman, playing the midfield anchor role, was cautioned – collecting a yellow card for pulling back Cato Guntveit
However, thanks to the composed and polished play of Claudio Reyna the Ibrox men gradually took a grip of the game and began to find their passing although they did not really trouble the Dons at the back.
Claudio Caniggia was an undoubted threat, however, and his quick feet created Rangers’ first opportunity in 17 minutes. He collected Fernando Ricksen’s long throw-in and, in a tight space, set up Michael Mols but the Dutchman’s shot was deflected for a corner.
Caniggia would have been clean through on David Preece in 33 minutes if Aberdeen’s only summer signing Roberto Bisconti had not blocked Nerlinger’s pinpoint pass with his arm.
Willie Young had little option but to caution the Belgian midfielder, who had denied Rangers a clear goal-scoring opportunity, but he might even have taken the ultimate sanction against Bisconti.
Young, perhaps aware of this fixture’s notoriety, was unwilling to stir things up. If Rangers were irate about the Bisconti handball, the Dons were furious at a clumsy Konterman challenge which caught Philip McGuire in the midriff.
While the game was competitive enough, it most definitely lacked sparkle. Caniggia, though, provided some dazzling inspiration in the 34th minute which led to Rangers’ best first half chance.
The Argentinian star danced his way along the goal-line, evading three challenges before cutting the ball back to Reyna, who set up Nerlinger but his fierce drive was deflected over the bar by Derek Whyte.
There was, however, much more to come from the former Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund star was he was to find the net in 54 minutes.
Rangers, though, had a highly score-able chance before that. McGuire’s crude, two-footed challenge on Caniggia on the edge of the box gave them a freekick in 40 minutes but Russell Latapy hit his effort high ove the bar.
Advocaat waited until eight minutes into the second half before making a switch, bringing on Kenny Miller for the tiring Mols and the young striker made an impact within a minute.
Miller found space on the left and produced a low cross which Caniggia flicked on for Reyna. The American star cleverly clipped the ball back to Nerlinger who drove left foot shot into the right corner from 15 yards.
It was Nerlinger’s second goal in two games for his new club, dispelling the suggestions that Rangers would struggle to find the net this season from the midfield area.
Two minutes later he was booked for a later challenge on Darren Mackie, but his goal made Rangers a better side and there was no looking back for Advocaat’s side.
Caniggia should have scored in 66 minutes when Ricksen played him in on the right side but he dragged the ball too far wide and shot straight at David Preece.
He was, however, hugely instrumental in the second goal two minutes later. With a clever pass he set up Miller who fired a shot at Preece. The ball broke back to Caniggia, who burst into the box and was promptly brought down by Bisconti.
Latapy made a cool job of the spotkick, clipping it into the right corner and the game was effectively over as a contest. Caniggia, though, was to have one last piece of involvement to add the icing to his performance.
It was a brilliant Latapy pass which set up the goal in 72 minutes as he fooled the Aberdeen defence to send Miller scampering down the left channel. Unselfishly, Miller found Caniggia at the back post and he slotted in the third goal.
He left to a standing ovation from the Rangers fans in 79 minutes and little wonder. It was, however, a job well done all round by Rangers to get the SPL campaign off to exactly the start Advocaat wanted.
ABERDEEN: (4-3-3) Preece; Solberg, McGuire, Whyte, McNaughton; Guntveit, Bisconti (Belabed 73), Darren Young; Winters (Clark), Mackie (Rutkiewicz 67), Derek Young. Subs not used – Esson, McAllister.
Booked: Bisconti (17)
RANGERS: (4-3-1-2) Klos; Ricksen, Moore, Vidmar, Numan (Hughes 64); Reyna, Konterman, Nerlinger; Latapy; Caniggia (McCann 79), Mols (Miller 53). Subs not used – Christiansen, Ross.
Booked: Konterman (14), Nerlinger (55).
Referee: Willie Young.
Man of the match: Claudio Reyna
Moment of the match: Caniggia’s dancing feet on the Aberdeen by-line.