RANGERS returned to form at Livingston this afternoon with a superb win and performance against a team who have caused problems to so many sides in the Scottish Premiership.
After going ahead in the first half through Ryan Jack, second half strikes from Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos added some deserved gloss to what was a powerful performance from the Ibrox men.
From the side which faced Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Wednesday, Steven Gerrard made four changes. Out went Andy Halliday, Gareth McAuley, Steven Davis and Jermain Defoe, with their places taken in the side by Borna Barisic, Nikola Katic, Ross McCrorie and Daniel Candeias.
The shape reverted back to the 4-3-3 system Gers had played for much of the season, with Candeias coming in on the right, Ryan Kent switching to the left while Alfredo Morelos was to lead the line.
Allan McGregor, as usual, was between the sticks, with today marking the 20th anniversary of his first appearance on the Rangers bench, then as a 16 year-old as Dick Advocaat’s side defeated Dundee 4-0 away from home en-route to a treble in the Dutchman’s first season in charge.
It was a similar team and setup to the one which defeated Celtic last month, and Gers began the match with some real purpose, pressing Livingston well to win the ball as well as collecting a good number of second balls.
The intensity of the visitors’ play was a joy to watch, and playing at that tempo, chances were always going to come, with the first falling the way of Candeias from a tight angle at the near post, with former Ger Liam Kelly getting down to deny him.
The returning McCrorie should have opened the scoring on the 10-minute mark, heading a Barisic corner over the bar from inside the six-yard box under little pressure from the Livi defence.
Alfredo Morelos then missed from similar range with another header, this time from an outstanding Barisic cross from deep on the left, with Gerrard’s side really looking to transform their dominance into goals.
Steven Lawless fired a shot over the bar from 20-yards out in the home side’s first sight of goal after 19 minutes before another huge opportunity came the way of Gers.
Again, pressing high, Candeias won the ball out on the right from Ricki Lamie and played a curling ball to pick out the run of Morelos to the edge of the box.
The Colombian went for the first-time shot and was desperately unlucky to see it cannon back off the post for Craig Halkett to clear, though that effort hit Scott Arfield and looped back goalwards only for it to end up on the roof of the net.
Finally, on 30 minutes, the superb play and pressure from Rangers finally told, with Ryan Jack again the hero for the 7000+ fans in attendance at Almondvale.
Super Ryan Kent play on the left released Morelos to burrow a way into the box from the left. His route to goal was blocked, but looked up and saw Ryan Jack approaching the penalty area.
Stopping around 25-yards out to take a touch, he let fly with a decent effort along the ground which Kelly seemed set to gather, but the ball squirmed under the Scotland youth cap and into the back of the net.
The second half began in much the same manner as the first, and Kent should have made it two within two minutes of the restart.
The familiar combination of Candeias and James Tavernier linked up on the right with the captain picking out Kent on the penalty spot all alone, but he fired well wide of the target.
Less than a minute later, however, it was 2-0 for the visitors – and Kent wasn’t to be denied this time!
Again, Candeias released Tavernier, and this time, he picked out Arfield on the edge of the box. His shot was flicked goalwards by Morelos for Kelly to make a fantastic save from close range, but the rebound fell to Kent and from a few yards out, he slammed the ball into the back of the net.
Dolly Menga, who scored the winner for Livi when the two sides last met, should have pulled one back soon after when he fired a Declan Gallagher cross over the bar from around 10-yards out, before Morelos again should have scored at the other end.
He beat Kelly to a Candeias cross in the air, and when it dropped, with his back to goal, he spun and shot wide of the empty net.
The Colombian then had another header tipped over by Kelly from a Tavernier free-kick before finally, his goal came in the 75th minute.
After again turning the ball over in midfield, Candeias played it wide to Arfield, and the Canadian spotted the run of Morelos to his right.
That allowed him to go one-on-one with Kelly, and despite being forced a little wide after rounding the keeper, he managed to slip a shot in at the far corner to seal the win.
Livi came close to a late consolation on the break from Scott Tiffoney, but an excellent block on the line from substitute Andy Halliday denied him, before Allan McGregor made an excellent save from Scott Pittmann in injury time to keep a clean sheet.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier (Halliday, 82), Worrall, Katic, Barisic; McCrorie, Jack, Arfield; Candeias, Morelos (Defoe, 76), Kent (Davis, 76).
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, McAuley, Coulibaly, Middleton.
LIVINGSTON: Kelly, Lamie (Tiffoney, 68), Lithgow, Halkett, Gallagher, Byrne, Pittmann, Lawless, Menga (Wylde, 59), Jacobs, Erskine (Sibbald, 76)
SUBS NOT USED: Stewart, Brown, Cadden, Lawson.
REFEREE: Kevin Clancy.