Steven's settler

Rangers 1 Steven 24 Raith Rovers 0 Attendance: 46,221
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The Independent Online
The hype can now finally be left behind as Scottish football's most eagerly awaited two-horse race got under way yesterday. For those backing the favourites, Rangers, the prospect of a slip in the opening furlong had them foaming at the mouth.

Not that it concerned their own team - defeat was never likely on the opening day against Raith Rovers at home. But with Celtic conceding ground so early on, the 46,221 crowd at Ibrox were beside themselves. The roar which greeted the early news from Aberdeen even eclipsed that which greeted Trevor Steven's decisive goal. But when the crowd heard that Celtic had rallied to gain a draw, the deflation at Ibrox was tangible. This will surely be another neck-and-neck season.

Rangers harnessed the confidence of their mid-week Champions' League success againstAlania Vladikavkaz to win this at a canter. Raith lost eight goals on their two visits here last season and there was no indication in the early stages that this was going to change. Indeed, if Steven had been more accurate with a back-post header in the fourth minute, Raith's misery would have continued.

Even their new players did not seem immune from the pain, and Paul Browne, a summer signing from Aston Villa, was booked early on for halting Brian Laudrup with a crude tackle.

In contrast, Rangers' most recent acquisition, Jorg Albertz, preferred to get himself noticed in a more amenable way. The pounds 4m defender came close with a searing shot in the 13th minute to rouse the crowd. Even this early, the German's athleticism and poise have marked him out as a cult figure. He cemented that popularity when he set up Steven's goal after 24 minutes.

Albertz opened up Raith with a powerful run down the left and his delicate cross to the back post had keeper Scott Thomson clawing at fresh air. Raith defenders Shaun Dennis and Paul Bonar then compounded the problem by getting in each other's way and it was left to Steven to fire into an unguarded net.

The former England midfielder has almost disappeared from view in recent seasons because of injuries and had to play at right-back simply to get a game. In view of the fact that the former Juventus full-back Alessandro Orlando, a free agent currently at Udinese, arrives this week for a 10- day trial, even that option may now be denied.

Richard Gough looked like extending Rangers' lead from Laudrup's corner three minutes after the interval, but Thomson somehow scrambled his header into the bar before Kirkwood knocked the rebound to safety.

Raith had scarcely been seen as an attacking force and when they finally did penetrate Andy Goram's area, Gough was there to deny them. Tony Rougier delivered a low cross but, just as substitute Kevin Twaddle was about to pull the trigger, the Rangers captain slid in to force a corner.