If this was one of the sterner tests Rangers will face in a season where the making of history is on the agenda, perhaps a title race as worthy of the name will develop after all. The scoreline from the Premiership opener in Aberdeen shows the most narrow of victories. In reality it was a different story: Steven Gerrard’s team were vastly superior to an opposition who only showed menace in a form worthy of disciplinary action. Andrew Considine was duly handed a red card for his late, wild lunge on Scott Arfield.
Much earlier, Ryan Kent endorsed Rangers’ early dominance with a calm finish. On repeat viewing, the goal was more impressive than had initially appeared. Rangers had noticed the tendency of Scott McKenna, the Aberdeen centre-back, to track every step of Alfredo Morelos.
As Morelos dropped short to receive the ball, Kent darted through the gap he and McKenna left behind. A Morelos pass to Kent left only the onrushing Joe Lewis to beat, which the former Liverpool winger managed with ease.
Generally Kent has not really delivered after a much-heralded arrival on a permanent basis from Anfield last year. For the 23-year-old, who seems more introverted a character than is typical for someone in his position this was the ideal start to a campaign. That also applies to Gerrard as Rangers look to stop Celtic’s pursuit of a record-breaking 10th title in a row.
“In the first half we played some outstanding football and at times in the second half we had to grind because Aberdeen are never going to make it comfortable for you,” said the Rangers manager.
“We have come to a difficult place today and deserved our victory. Aberdeen stayed in the game but I thought we thoroughly deserved it.”
A total of 144 days had passed between Scottish football being halted by Covid-19 and this lunchtime resumption. Fixtures between Aberdeen and Rangers can be among the most fiery in Scotland but not so this time, due in no small part to the timid nature of the hosts’ performance.
With crowd noise absent, the frustrations of the Aberdeen manager, Derek McInnes, were continually audible. McInnes has been in charge at Pittodrie for seven years, with some murmurings from the support implying familiarity may be breeding contempt.
In Aberdeen’s defence, they were without their prolific marksman Sam Cosgrove through injury. Yet the forward’s absence offers no excuse to a midfield who appeared incapable of protecting the ball.
Young Bruce Anderson, who lasted 65 minutes as Cosgrove’s replacement, was given nothing that even remotely resembled ample service.
The two Aberdeen fans who hired a crane to take in the game from behind – and above – Pittodrie’s south stand must have wondered why they bothered. The home team did not register a shot on target.
Ianis Hagi had a shot smartly saved by Lewis as Rangers chased a second. Any concern of Gerrard’s would have resonated in the ghosts of seasons past. Under his watch, Rangers have had a tendency to throw away games from a supposedly dominant position.
On this occasion, though, Lewis’s opposite number, Allan McGregor, was enjoying a carefree afternoon. Gerrard was correct to acknowledge Aberdeen’s improvement after half-time but it was only marginal.
McGregor did handle well when under pressure from a Matty Kennedy corner with the keeper otherwise untroubled. Hagi tried again, this time his effort was deflected, with Lewis on hand to deny him again.
Blocks by Ash Taylor from Morelos and Joe Aribo, either side of Considine’s red-mist moment, prevented Rangers from adding the second goal that would have given a fairer portrayal of the 90 minutes.