Arfield nets winner as Rangers edge past Livi to keep slim titles hopes alive
Rangers kept their Ladbrokes Premiership title hopes alive with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Livingston at Ibrox.
Celtic’s 2-1 win at Aberdeen earlier in the day had put pressure on Steven Gerrard’s side in a fixture that had been postponed on Saturday due to a waterlogged pitch.
Livi’s 20-year-old goalkeeper Ryan Schofield, on loan from Huddersfield, made three saves in a first half affected by the swirling wind before Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield drove through his legs in the 58th minute for the game’s only goal.
Celtic remain 10 points ahead at the top having played a game more than their Old Firm rivals as both clubs turn their attention to respective Europa League last-32 ties this week, with the Hoops going to Copenhagen and Rangers hosting Braga, but domestic advantage still lies solidly with the champions.
The Light Blues’ dismal 2-1 midweek defeat at Kilmarnock had dealt a blow to their title aspirations but Gerrard made only one change on Sunday, with veteran midfielder Steven Davis in for Joe Aribo.
Livingston boss Gary Holt brought in keeper Schofield for his first league game as Rangers loanee Robby McCrorie was unable to play against his parent club.
Also starting were Ricki Lamie, Keaghan Jacobs, Steve Lawson, Robbie Crawford and Aymen Souda, who had an early angled drive which missed the target but was kept in by the strong wind.
The Livi defence repelled several crosses into the box and in the 17th minute Schofield denied home striker Alfredo Morelos inside the six-yard box.
Moments later, Light Blues attacker Ryan Kent curled a shot just past the far post after being sent clear by Arfield in a swift counter-attack, before defender Nikola Katic headed over from 12 yards after an attempted clearance looped into the air.
The home side battled the wind as much as Livi in their attempt to play football.
In the 35th minute Davis played in left-back Andy Halliday but Schofield brilliantly tipped his toe-poke from close range on to the bar and over for a corner, but again Gerrard’s team failed to capitalise.
Schofield again came to Livi’s rescue when he blocked a drive from Davis after the Northern Irishman had been slipped in by Ianis Hagi, and then saved a low drive from Kent in the 54th minute. Kent was replaced by Hibernian loanee Florian Kamberi two minutes later.
At the other end, Rangers keeper Allan McGregor had to make a superb save from Souda’s acrobatic close-range strike following a Livi throw-in, to keep the game goalless.
The unmarked Arfield changed that when he took a pass from Hagi, turned and beat Schofield with a powerful drive for his fourth goal in three games.
Morelos had the ball in the net in the 71st minute but the flag was up for offside.
Almost 10 minutes later Livi striker Lyndon Dykes took a pass from substitute Dolly Menga and crashed a shot off the post with McGregor beaten, before testing the Rangers keeper with another drive.
The visitors continued to push for an equaliser, but their efforts were in vain, while Rangers were denied a second with the offside flag frustrating Kamberi after he had netted.