Last updated : 14 September 2002 By Grandmaster Suck

Attendance 10,003

Rangers retained their newly acquired SPL leadership with a hard-fought 2-0 win at Livingston this afternoon thanks to two second-half goals from Maurice Ross and Barry Ferguson.

Two years ago Rangers led the title race for just three days before ceding the summit to first Hibernian then Celtic, and with a UEFA Cup visit to Prague looming large on the horizon there had been no time to enjoy the one-point lead over their greatest rivals that had presented itself so unexpectedly this week.

Rangers had suffered defeat on their last visit to Almondvale ­ indeed Livvie were the only Scottish club apart from Celtic to overcome the Ibrox men during the course of last season, but there would be no repeat today.

An injury-ravaged visiting squad showed two changes from the side that had defeated Hearts on Wednesday, with Maurice Ross and Billy Dodds replacing Arthur Numan and Ronald De Boer. For both incomers it was the first start of the season.

On a gloriously sunny afternoon it was Livingston who were first to threaten when Stefan Klos had to be alert to block Francisco Quino¹s shot from a Barry Wilson cross.

Rangers were taking time to settle ­ perhaps due to the enforced changes ­ against opponents who were certainly up for the challenge, but a probing run down the left by Claudio Caniggia in thirteen minutes did produce a cross that was met first-time by Fernando Ricksen, only for Javier-Sanchez Broto to push the volley away with both Shota Arveladze and Billy Dodds ready to pounce.

Livvie were making headway down their right flank ­ seeking no doubt to capitalise on the out-of-position Ross, although Maurice has been fielded in that position at international level. A Quino cross in 16 minutes found Klos uncertain as he attempted to punch clear, the ball breaking to Cherif whose drive was blocked by Bob Malcolm.

Four minutes later a Barry Ferguson free-kick ricocheted off a defender then Dodds, the ball eventually missing the target by a matter of inches. Livingston's Cherif was yellow-carded in 24 minutes for a foul on Craig Moore, a booking that would prove expensive in the second-half, but at this juncture in the proceedings it was the home side who were making the running, Klos again having to be on his toes to hold a twenty-yard drive from Rolando Zarate.

It was the same two combatants again in 36 minutes when Zarate was clean through on goal only for the Rangers goalkeeper to pick the ball cleanly off his toes. The Ibrox men nevertheless finished the half the stronger ­ Shota Arveladze creating space wide on the left before cutting a low cross into the path of Mikel Arteta whose netbound drive was blocked.

Livvie continued to give as good as they got in the early stages of the second-half, but the turning-point of the game arrived in 58 minutes when Cherif received his second yellow-card of the afternoon for a wild tackle on Fernando Ricksen, and as a consequence was sent off.

Rangers took advantage of their numerical superiority within three minutes ­ Barry Ferguson opening up the defence with a slide-rule pass to Maurice Ross who stabbed the ball home for his first goal for the club.

The Light Blues went all out for the kill, and almost added a second in 63 minutes when Arveladze's header from a Caniggia cross was just wide of the target.

There was no coming back for the Almondvale outfit following that twin setback. An imaginative free-kick from Arteta almost caught Broto napping when his angled thirty-yard effort hit the side-net in 81 minutes, but within five minutes a Ferguson penalty sealed the points when substitutes

Latapy and Lovenkrands combined to great effect ­ the Dane's pace carrying him into the penalty area where he was upended by Marvin Andrews.

Arveladze almost made it 3-0 in the dying seconds when his twenty-yard drive struck the post, but the game was already won.

Manager Alex McLeish afterwards reflected on a good day¹s work:

'It was a hard game ­ all credit to the players considering the enforced changes. Maurice Ross showed the strikers how to finish.'

LIVINGSTON Broto; McNamee, Andrews, Rubio, Bollan; Wilson (Dadi 74), Cherif, Lovell (O¹Brien 69), Quino; Zarate, Camacho (Bingham 61)

UNUSED SUBS McEwan, Dorado

RANGERS Klos; Muscat, Moore, Malcolm, Ross; Ricksen, Ferguson, Arteta; Caniggia (Latapy 76), Dodds (Lovenkrands 66), Arveladze

UNUSED SUBS McGregor; Mols, Konterman

REFEREE Kenny Clark