Aribo and Morelos on target before boss Gerrard claims Holt’s criticism was wide of the mark
STEVEN GERRARD last night claimed Gary Holt was wide of the mark with criticisms of the Rangers manager after he insisted his team needed protection from Livingston.
Defending his side’s physical approach, the Livvy boss used a Sunday newspaper column to accuse Gerrard of being ‘naive’ following remarks made ahead of Rangers’ 2-0 win at the Tony Macaroni Arena yesterday.
Gerrard had been unhappy with a challenge by Ricki Lamie which left Joe Aribo needing 20 stitches in a head wound when the teams met in the Betfred Cup in September, insisting it merited a red card.
That drew a stinging response from Holt (left), who insisted his opposite number should take a leaf from Walter Smith.
‘He is entitled to his own opinion and whatever he wants to say,’ said Gerrard after goals from Aribo and Alfredo Morelos kept Rangers on Celtic’s coat-tails. ‘But I think he needs to read or look at my press conference properly; not once did I say Lamie elbowed my player. I said he led
UGLY and unpleasant. Speaking in a Sunday newspaper, Gary Holt had picked two colourful adjectives to describe how Livingston planned to approach another meeting with Rangers.
Steven Gerrard and his team had two choices. They could sink in the quicksand and finish waist-deep in brown stuff. Or they could stand up and fight fire with fire.
By choosing the latter, they showed a different side to their character and mentality. A comfortable win further underlined their credentials as serious challengers to Celtic in Gerrard’s 50th game as manager and even the loss of Ryan Kent to a dead leg after 58 minutes couldn’t take the shine from a performance the manager branded ‘outstanding’.
The £7million winger should be out of action for a few days at worst and, for Rangers, the international break brings time to draw breath and take stock. All in all, they’re in a good place.
Livingston seemed a slightly risky place for Gerrard to start Joe Aribo ahead of Steven Davis.
A fine footballer, the Nigerian international hasn’t always seemed comfortable with the aggression of the Premiership. Yet the midfielder sustained a blow from the elbow of Livvy defender Ricki Lamie on his last visit to West Lothian and the lingering anger proved a powerful motivation here.
For 32 minutes, Rangers struggled to open up a Livingston side hellbent on dragging the visitors into a war of attrition. When they did, Aribo was clinical.
His first Rangers league goal — and first for the club since a strike against East Fife in mid-August — was a superb piece of finishing, the ball dispatched into the postage-stamp corner after an exchange of passes between Scott Arfield and Alfredo Morelos.
Akin to a rope in the quicksand, Rangers powered their way to safety with a stunning finish from Morelos for his 22nd goal of the season seven minutes into the second half.
Remarkably, Livingston’s only win in their last ten games has come against Celtic.
Holt’s team had also made life uncomfortable for Rangers in a narrow Betfred Cup defeat and the return of the pacy and physical Lyndon Dykes up front after a three-match absence promised another tough 90 minutes for Filip Helander.
Yet both the summer signing and defensive-partner Connor Goldson were singled out for high praise by Gerrard after a fourth consecutive clean sheet.
Missing influential captain Alan Lithgow — rushed to hospital for appendix surgery before the game — to say Livingston failed to do to Rangers what they did to Celtic does Gerrard’s side a disservice. They were given no say in the matter.
‘I can’t fault the effort and the energy levels and the commitment but we didn’t hunt in packs,’ said Holt after losing the battle which followed the war of words with Gerrard over his side’s perceived physicality.
‘If you give a good side time to play, they will hurt you. We were certainly guilty of standing around and watching rather than trying to make something happen.
But for goalkeeper Matija Sarkic, Gerrard’s team would have tied things up by half-time.
The Livingston No 1 scrambled across his line to deny Ryan Jack a dipping, deflected opener after seven minutes as Rangers started brightly.
He then produced a stunning save after the Aribo strike, pushing a netbound Glen Kamara effort round the post as Rangers looked to double their lead.
Livingston’s physicality dominated the pre-match narrative. Holt took public exception to a suggestion from opposite number Gerrard that his team had been overly aggressive in the Betfred Cup defeat.
His defence hung by a thread when full-back Jack McMillan was fortunate to escape a red card for a late sliding challenge on Kamara after 21 minutes. By then, Scott Pittman had missed a fine chance to head his side into the lead.
A minute after Kent slammed a bouncing shot inches wide of the post from 20 yards, Aribo struck and Rangers had their breakthrough.
Livingston will reflect on an immediate chance to equalise for Dykes. The hero against Celtic controlled a Pittman cross on his chest but slashed high and wide.
Nevertheless, the tone of the game had changed. Livingston’s best hope lay in dragging the visitors down to their level. In contrast with Celtic, the guerrilla warfare failed to reap dividends.
But for a stunning Sarkic save when Kent cut back to Kamara before half-time, the goal difference would have looked a little healthier. It was merely delaying the inevitability of a Morelos goal.
It came shortly after the interval and killed any prospect of a Livingston revival.
When Borna Barisic fed the Colombian down the left channel, Morelos looked a fraction offside. Given the benefit of the doubt, he shrugged off Hakeem Odoffin and cut in from the left to squeeze the ball past Sarkic at the far post.
Despite his heroics of the first half, it was a poor angle for the Livvy keeper to be beaten from. Swamped by team-mates, adored by supporters, Morelos made way for Jermain Defoe with eight minutes to play.
The first Rangers substitution of the game prompted a slightly different reaction, Kent unable to shake off an injury caused by a clash with Steve Lawson. The Englishman succumbed to injury shortly after rejoining the Ibrox club but is unlikely to miss any games at all courtesy of an international break.
The momentum Rangers have built up makes international football a slightly unwelcome interruption to the domestic campaign.
Gerrard said: ‘The lads that are non-internationals will use the break for some time with their families and to rest and recover.
‘And we wish all our international lads all the best and wait to see what condition they come back in. We need a bit of luck there — that they all come back in one piece because the team is playing ever so well, the squad is looking strong.
‘We are in the place we want to be in.’
Deadly: Morelos notched up his 22nd goal of the season as Rangers beat Livingston
Diamond in the rough: Aribo fires Rangers ahead with a superb finish and (inset) savours his first league goal for the Ibrox club with Barisic