THERE were no supporters inside Pittodrie yesterday as Aberdeen and Rangers got the 2020/21 season underway with the opening Premiership fixture due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions .

The sound of enthusiastic clapping could still be heard inside the empty stadium after Steven Gerrard’s side had edged out Derek McInnes’s team in what was - unusually for an encounter between the fierce rivals, but understandably given the absence of any atmosphere - a subdued affair.

It emanated from the visitors’ dressing room following the final whistle and was directed at Leon Balogun, the Nigerian centre half who joined the Ibrox club little over a week ago, following an assured debut.

Balogun partnered Connor Goldson in the heart of the Rangers rearguard and impressed. He was excellent in the air and looked comfortable with the ball at his feet. He played on after smashing his head off the post in the second-half and receiving medical attention too.

McInnes was without both Sam Cosgrove and Curtis Main and Aberdeen lacked their usual physical presence up front. It was only when Ryan Edmondson, who has joined on loan from Leeds United for the season, replaced Bruce Anderson that the hosts posed any sort of threat in the final third. Balogun will have far more difficult afternoons this term.

Still, the German-born footballer, who has played in the Bundesliga with Hannover 96, Werder Bremen and Fortuna Dusseldorf as well as the Premier League with Brighton, looks to be a shrewd acquisition on the early evidence.

George Edmundson, Filip Helander and, when he recovers from his keen injury, Nikola Katic have serious competition for a place. 

“He was outstanding,” said Gerrard. “We trusted him to go in for a debut. This is one of the toughest places to come for an away game. But he's just had a round of applause from the players because they realise how tough a debut it was.

“He's been in the door six days, but we've seen enough, and had seen enough prior to bringing him in, to know that we could trust him to do a job. As I say, I thought he was outstanding.”

It looked doubtful the 32-times capped 32-year-old would be able to last the 90 minutes when he went down injured after a Matt Kennedy corner into the Rangers penalty area. The way he persevered pleased his manager.

“He's got a little lump on his head, but that's pretty normal coming away in this league,” he said. “We know it's a physical league. He got on with it, he got up and carried on and that's what we want to see.”

Watching Rangers keep a fifth consecutive clean sheet – they didn’t concede any goals in their four pre-season friendlies – was encouraging for Gerrard. Calamitous defending caused the Glasgow club’s Scottish title challenge to collapse in the second half of last season before play was suspended by the coronavirus outbreak. It augurs well for what promises to be a momentous campaign.

There is, though, room for improvement in attack. Ryan Kent scored a well-worked goal in the first-half after James Tavernier had supplied Alfredo Morelos. But the away side failed to capitalise on their superior possession and kill their opponents off. That has been a failing which has cost them in the past as well.

Ianis Hagi and Morelos, who appeared unaffected by fevered speculation about his future in recent days, both had attempts deflected just wide and Joe Aribo had a shot cleared off the line by Ash Taylor at the death. 

However, it is understandable if this wasn’t their most polished display. It was their first competitive fixture in almost five months after all. Gerrard stressed he was pleased his charges dug in and saw the game out without committing any needless mistakes and letting in an equaliser.  

“It wasn't pretty at times,” he said. “But we showed a different side to us - that we are capable of hanging in and playing with a good steeliness to get the win. So I'm pleased, it's a big three points, a good start and we're up running.

“I think over the course of 38 games you will have times where it looks scrappy. The important thing is that you don't fall apart and concede goals and let people take points away from you.

“You've got to stay tough, stick together and make sure you do everything out there as a team to collectively get over the line. The second goal would have given us some oxygen and some breathing space. But we couldn't find it.”

Aberdeen left back Andrew Considine was shown a straight red card by referee Bobby Madden three minutes before the end of regulation time for a rash challenge on Scott Arfield after the Rangers midfielder had replaced Hagi.

“Andy has raised his studs so you are always running the risk,” said McInnes. “I don’t think he has hurt the boy. Is that a red card 10 or 15 games into the season? Who knows? But I don’t think we really can have too much complaint given the fact that he has raised his studs.”