Betis Beaten – Rangers 1-0 Real Betis

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By David Herd

A rousing second half performance from Rangers earned a much-needed and impressive 1-0 win over Real Betis, as Rangers defeated Spanish opposition for the first time in 38 years.

There were 45,634 inside Ibrox tonight to see Rangers kick-off their Europa League Group C fixtures against groups favourites Real Betis. With a recent catalogue of injuries to contend with, Michael Beale’s first task was to decide on a starting eleven and formation from those he had available. There’s no doubt the loss of Cantwell, Danilo and Raskin significantly weakened his hand, and with Kieran Dowell also out as well as the departure of several midfielders in the closing days of the transfer window, it was the engine room that looked to be his biggest headache. Up front, however, had to also be a real concern, with the manager’s summer recruits not impressing as yet. Ask ten fans their preferred starting team and you got little agreement.

When the team line-ups were revealed, the manager seemed to have decided attack as the best form of defence, with no Ryan Jack as most had expected, and starting roles for Lawrence, Sima, Matondo and Roofe. The fact there was no place for Lammers or Dessers put further doubt on the value the club are getting for the massive summer outlay on the attack. John Lundstram looked to be the only naturally defensive midfielder, with Ben Davies preferred to John Souttar behind him in central defence.

For Betis, veteran Claudio Bravo was passed fit to play in goal, meaning the pre-match stories of an untried third choice goalkeeper proved unfounded. Manuel Pellegrini certainly hadn’t fielded a fringe team as many of the clubs from the bigger nations do in the early stages of European tournaments, with the La Liga outfit obviously intent on getting their group campaign off to a winning start.

Before the match, there was an impeccably observed moment of silence for the great Rangers centre half of the 1960s and early 1970s, Ronnie McKinnon. And once the action got underway, the first clear chance fell to Rabbi Matondo, who was sent clear on the Betis goal after just four minutes. Unlike Perth on Saturday, however, his finish was weak and straight at Bravo. This would be the last clear sight of goal Rangers would create for quite some time, as the Spanish side started dominating possession.

Wide men Ezzalzouli and Luiz Henrique showed great pace and intent, giving the Rangers full backs plenty difficulty. Ezzalzouli had a great opportunity after twenty minutes to silence Ibrox, but his low shot was well saved by Jack Butland, with the rebound hacked away by Barisic. The Rangers midfield were struggling to keep the ball when they did get it, meaning the forwards were relying in scraps and the defence was kept busy. The fans were starting to show their frustration at the direction of play, with Kemar Roofe’s frustration evident when he tried to beat Bravo from fully 50 yards with a hopeful effort. His attempt at recreating Liege fell well short. When Isco fired over after good work by Bellerin down the right just before the half hour, it looked a matter of time before Rangers fell behind unless they could impose themselves far better.

The last ten minutes of the half were far more promising, however. Some much better passing and forward intent saw a couple of half chances, the better one falling to Sima after an excellent Barisic cross. Matondo’s pace was worrying the Spaniards, and the Ibrox crowd were now starting to find their voice. Matondo had the final effort of the half, but blazed wide. No goals at the interval, and the feeling was it could have been worse.

That last ten minutes set the tone for a high-energy and impressive second half showing. The Betis woodwork was hit twice, once from a Borna Barisic free kick after a crude foul on Kemar Roofe that could easily have resulted in a red card for former Barcelona man Marc Bartre. Tom Lawrence’s fizzing shot that scraped the outside of the upright was further evidence that Rangers were now the team more likely to score. The in 67 minutes, Ibrox erupted.

Sam Lammers, who had replaced the injured Lawrence a few minutes earlier, won a header at the back post from a corner. Kemar Roofe was first to the knockdown, and saw Bravo make a brilliant stop from his shot. In the following melee, the ball was won and fell 3 yards out to both Sima and the excellent Ben Davies, with the scorer not immediately obvious to those of us in the main stand. TV pictures looked to confirm Sima got the last touch.

Unsurprisingly, there were some anxious moments then to navigate, as Betis threw men forward and brought on a series of expensive substitutes. Jack Butland proved his worth with a couple of excellent saves, further evidence that we have found a worthy successor to Allan McGregor. Michael Beale shored up the defence in the closing minutes with both Ryan Jack and Dujon Sterling brought on to add steel, and the final whistle was greeted by a huge roar by the appreciative Ibrox support.

The Rangers of 2023/24 have finally won a big game, and the signs are good that they are now getting back on track. The manager was full of praise for his team after the match, speaking of the desire and attitude of his players, as well as hailing his depth of squad with so many players missing. Motherwell on Sunday is the next challenge, as Rangers try to get over recent stumbles and set off on the winning run that we all want to see.

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