BIT­ING BACK

Aribo and More­los on tar­get be­fore boss Ger­rard claims Holt’s crit­i­cism was wide of the mark

Scottish Daily Mail - - The Verdict - By STEPHEN McGOWAN

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

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