DROPPING points to lesser cinch Premiership opponents proved fatal to Rangers hopes of being crowned champions once again last season.

They failed to triumph against Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hearts, Motherwell and Ross County and finished four adrift of their city rivals Celtic in the table as a consequence.

This hard-fought opening day victory over Livingston at the Tony Macaroni Arena, then, augurs well for the Ibrox club for the remainder of the 2022/23 campaign.

There are another 37 matches to go and 111 more points to be played for. Nobody in Govan should be ordering any bottles of champagne quite yet. There are, not least defensively, improvements to be made in the coming weeks. 

Still, Giovanni van Bronckhorst looks as if he has successfully addressed a failing which caused their six point lead to evaporate after the winter shutdown. 

Glasgow Times:

The travelling supporters who filled three stands of the stadium yesterday must have experienced a horrible sense of déjà vu after Joel Nouble gave the hosts an early lead. Their heroes applied sustained pressure thereafter but were unable to level.

But Van Bronckhorst made changes at half-time and his charges laid siege to their opponents’ goal when play resumed. Substitute Scott Arfield equalised with a glancing header and then James Tavernier rifled a long-range free-kick into the top corner to sew up the three points.

David Martindale was aggrieved that an Ayo Obileye goal at a late corner was not allowed to stand and it was not immediately obvious to onlookers what offence referee Don Robertson had spotted in the build-up.

A draw, though, would perhaps have flattered Livingston given the extent to which Rangers dominated. They enjoyed 83 per cent possession, had 21 attempts on goal and got six shots on target.

Glasgow Times:

The Livingston goal was engulfed in plumes of thick red, white and blue smoke as soon as the game got underway after canisters were set off by travelling supporters in the stand behind it. 

Robertson took the ball off goalkeeper Shamal George for a few seconds in just the second minute to allow the air to clear.

Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, this week warned that those supporters who were guilty of unacceptable conduct inside grounds would face sever punishment. His words, alas, have clearly fallen on deaf ears.

Livingston made an explosive start of their own to the new season. Nouble outmuscled John Souttar after Nicky Devlin had flicked on a long ball from George into his path and then lobbed Mclaughlin.

It was an exceptional finish from the 6ft 4in forward. But why did Barisic not deal with the initial punt upfield? Why was Souttar brushed aside so easily?

Glasgow Times:

The pair must do far better going forward to retain their places. Van Bronckhorst has decent alternatives at left back and centre half after bringing in Ridvan Yilmaz and Ben Davies in the close season.

Van Bronckhorst made a big call by naming McLaughlin ahead of Allan McGregor in goals – which was perhaps an indication that he will be preferred to the Ibrox legend in the coming months.

The former could do little about the opener. But he has big gloves to fill and will need to perform at a high level with such an experienced understudy warming the bench. 

The rest of the first-half was familiar to seasoned observers of Livingston; they sat back and soaked up sustained pressure from their opponents, put in some, er, robust challenges and created a couple of opportunities on the counter attack.

Glasgow Times:

Martindale’s side actually had far better chances. Obileye got on the end of an Andre Shinnie corner and forced a good save from McLaughlin with a powerful header and Double then saw a shot blocked by Tavernier.

When Scott Wright was brought down by Phillip Cancar the travelling supporters were outraged. Van Bronckhorst left his technical area and made his unhappiness known to the fourth official as his player was receiving medical attention. Martindale replaced the defender, who had been yellow carded, with Cristian Montand shortly afterwards.

Robertson had a busy afternoon. He also booked George and Sean Kelly as well as Goldson, Souttar, Glen Kamara and Antonio Colak. The match official will be counting the days until VAR is introduced to the game in this country. 

Glasgow Times:

Van Bronckhorst removed Wright, who had been subjected to some meaty tackles in the opening 45 minutes, at half-time and put on Malik Tillman, the Bayern Munich loanee who arrived in Govan earlier this month, up front. The United States internationalist’s introduction to proceedings made a real difference. 

Tavernier forced a save from George, Obileye was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he barged over Colak and Jack Fitzwater headed a Ryan Kent effort clear.

The Rangers fans celebrated when Colak nodded in a cross from the winger in the 54th minute. But linesman Jonathan Bell had his flag raised and the goal was, much to the amusement of the Livingston supporters, disallowed for offside.

Tavernier and his team mates redoubled their efforts. Tillman tested George after the keeper had flapped at a high Barisic ball into his six yard box. It seemed just a matter of time before parity was restored.

Glasgow Times:

It was after Van Bronckhorst made a double substitution. He put on James Sands for Souttar and Arfield for Kamara and the latter levelled in the 73rd minute after meeting a Kent ball with a glancing header.

Tavernier put Rangers in front the following minute after Colak had been bundled over by Fitzwater as he bore down on goal. The right back rifled the free-kick into the top right corner. It might not have happened last season. 

Glasgow Times: