After seemingly turning a corner in their form after the international break, Rangers suffered a poor result against Livingston.
Rangers went on the road to Livingston looking to continue their streak of quality play, but instead fell flat and looked like a side in need of serious work as they fell 1-0 on the road.
The game got off to a poor start, as Livingston looked solid from the start and even when Rangers had bouts of possession and attacking play they struggled to make anything of it. The lone goal of the match came in the 34th minute as Dolly Menga took a square pass right in front of the net for what was essentially a tap in. The game would see no more goals, but Livingston had other chances, before and after the goal, while Rangers mustered very little.
It is worth mentioning, Livingston has been a strong side all season and they made very good use of the plastic pitch in place at their home stadium. Rangers players were very clearly bothered by the turf, impacting their touch and through balls, while Livingston made almost all of their attacking plays through the air.
All that said, it is only a small comfort that the pitch was a factor. The biggest problem for Rangers is that, for only the second time this season (with the 3-3 tie against Motherwell being the other) the Rangers defense looked soft and out of sorts.
The absence of Nikola Katic surely had some impact here, but it isn’t like the Ayr United game where nearly the entire second-string defensive line was in. Connor Goldson still manned the middle, with Borna Barisic and James Tavernier on the sides. Joe Worrall has also had some good moments in his limited time, especially in Europe.
All season, one of the strongest points of this Rangers side has been their ability to play defense. Staying in good shape, and being comfortable absorbing crosses and shots from outside the box as their stout inner defenders win everything out of the air.
In this game, Livingston played balls into the box through the air with regularity and found a great deal of success even if the goal they scored was not on such a play. In the Motherwell game, it was fair to simply chalk it up to a bad game and move on given how strong the defense had been the rest of the season. With two different cases against Scottish competition now, it is officially something to worry about.
Had Livingston scored on some spectacular shot or some sort of fluky circumstance then it would be easy to simply chalk this game up to a bad day at the office combined with some bad luck and a plastic pitch. But the simple fact is that Rangers were the worse team, that is a problem.
At the end of the game, it was fair to suggest that Rangers were actually fairly fortunate to only allow one goal as Livingston failed to convert on a couple of other excellent chances. Meanwhile Rangers barely even tested the Livingston goal at all.
This match is not cause for a total panic, Scottish football is more competitive than ever, all teams have off-days, and it is important to remember that this squad still hasn’t been together for all that long. That said, the excuses run dry with this game. Early in the season the combination of lots of games, huge turnover of personnel, and a tough schedule resulted in being understanding to have a disappointing league start.
At this point, there is no other excuse beyond that Rangers played very poorly and were outclassed. Once again, this happens sometimes, and if Rangers can come out and play a strong match in Europa league against Rapid Wien, then they will quickly win back some goodwill.
Essentially, this match is not a huge problem if they bounce-back, but it does put more pressure on them to ensure that this does not become a trend. All teams have off-games, as long as that is what happened then you accept it and move on. If they struggle in upcoming games as well though, it will be time to worry. Especially considering that they officially have a trend of struggling when going on the road.