CONNOR GOLDSON’S injury-time winner secured victory for Rangers against a Kilmarnock side who thought they’d grabbed a point through Stephen O’Donnell’s equaliser on 83 minutes.
Gers had a first-half lead through Scott Arfield but couldn’t find a second before the late drama at the end as they won in the league at Rugby Park for the first time since May 2011.
From the side which came through against Progres Niederkorn in the Europa League on Thursday, Steven Gerrard named three changes.
Allan McGregor missed out through suspension, his place being taken by Wes Foderingham, while Steven Davis and Alfredo Morelos came in for Glen Kamara and Jermain Defoe.
The visitors began the game at a real pace and were moving the ball about pretty well on the newly-laid plastic pitch here at Rugby Park, and it was they who created the first chance of the game after seven minutes.
Ryan Jack’s lobbed ball into the area was met superbly by Alfredo Morelos, the Colombian getting himself in front of Stuart Findlay to take, and on the volley from a very acute angle, he forced goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu into a smart stop at his near post.
Then, on 16 minutes, the Light Blues hit the front. James Tavernier’s superb corner was well won by Nikola Katic, and while Branescu got down well to save the Croatian’s header, steaming in at the back post to net was Scott Arfield to spark pandemonium among the 4000 or-so Gers fans at the opposite end of the stadium.
Killie fired back with Eamonn Brophy forcing Wes Foderingham into his first save of the match with a decent effort on the volley before Arfield, also on the volley, shot just wide from the edge of the box following a Morelos knock-down.
Sheyi Ojo did well next to get a head to a Borna Barisic cross, but Branescu gathered well before Morelos found the same destination with his head from a Tavernier free-kick as the half came to a close.
Gers were then again on the front foot at the start of the second half, Ryan Jack shooting wide from 25-yards early on before they had a massive let-off at the other end with Brophy knocking a Chris Burke cross wide from inside the six-yard box.
Next up a super run from Joe Aribo, brushing off countless challenges, ended with the Englishman curling an effort towards the top corner from the edge of the box only for Branescu to acrobatically get a hand to his shot.
The goalkeeper was becoming busier as the half progressed, and he dived at the feet of Morelos to deny him as he latched onto a Connor Goldson header from a corner, before from another corner, Katic again came close, nodding wide this time.
However, with 83 minutes showing on the clock, Kilmarnock grabbed an equaliser. A Burke free-kick reached Stephen O’Donnell at the back post, and completely unmarked, the full-back rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
Rangers pored forward in search of an equaliser, and again Aribo brought a superb stop out of Branescu with an effort that looked destined for the postage stamp, but from the resulting corner kick, up rose Goldson to head home a wonderful Tavernier corner to hand Gers victory on the opening day.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Aribo, Davis (Edmundson, 90), Jack; Ojo (Jones, 78), Morelos, Arfield (Stewart, 87).
SUBS: Firth, Defoe, Halliday, Kamara.
KILMARNOCK: Branescu, O’Donnell, Broadfoot, Findlay, Taylor, Power, Dicker, El Makrini (Kiltie, 70), McKenzie, Burk, Brophy.
SUBS: MacDonald, Bruce, Wilson, Millen, Thomas, Cameron.
REFEREE: Willie Collum