By Patryk Czajka
Rangers beat Lech Poznań 2-0 away from home in the last game of Europa League group stage. Thanks to that result Rangers topped the group with 14 points, having dropped points only due to two draws against Benfica. It was another strong and immense performance by Rangers despite the fact that Steven Gerrard decided to give a chance to a few of fringe players.
The match started from launching of fireworks outside of the stadium by Lech’s supporters to celebrate last European game this season as I guess.
And that was Rangers’ Bongani Zungu who started football fireworks. However his shot from the 3rd minute went well wide of goal. A minute later Lech created the first decent chance to score a goal. After a corner kick, the second ball was gathered by Pedro Tiba and then he shot on target and that was well denied by Jon McLoughlin although he needed two touches to make the save.
First 15 minutes of the game resembled rather a chess competition than a football game. Both teams started with the full mutual respect and clearly none of the sides did not want to make a mistake in the early stage of the game. Thus there were a lot of safe passes and careful caring of the ball.
It was the first game for Rangers’ forward formation consisting of Hagi, Itten and Aribo and to be honest their performance did not look convincing in the early stages of the game. Both Hagi and Itten were found through long passes out of defence, however poor first touches on the ball and lack consistence costed Rangers losing a ball. Nevertheless it is worth to underline that invention behind that passes were clever.
In the first half of an hour Rangers had a lot trouble to get into an opponent penalty box and the same struggle was met by Lech. At that time, Rangers definitely could not perform in a way which is typical for them this season. I mean it was lack of composure and commanding possession in the final third. It is also worth to mention that in the first 30 minutes of the game Borna Barisić focused merely on defending and protecting left side. He barely ran forward to support forward players as he used to do it this season. Perhaps that contributed to the overall performance of Rangers in an opening stages of the game.
In the final 15 minutes of the first half Rangers started to play better and it seemed they found themselves on the pitch. Firstly, Cedric Itten’s shot was blocked by defender. A couple of minutes later another chance appeared for Itten and this time the Swiss international found the back of the net after intercepting of a bad pass between Lech players. It was a pure quality from Cedric. 0-1 on the scoreboard after 32 minutes. It was a first shot on goal for Rangers. That goal bolstered Rangers confidence and they started to play much better – moving the ball quicker and being more aggressive and inventive in the final third.
First half ended with one goal advantage despite few more chances created for Hagi before the half-time whistle. From the stands it looked like improvement of performance from Kamara and Aribo was the key in this positive turnaround of team’s display.
Second half started with the bad touch over the ball from Nathan Patterson as he gave it away to Jakub Moder. However Moder’s pass into the box in the looking for Mikael Ishak was read by McLoughlin. However despite that incident, Rangers were constantly improving their performance. They started to command all over the pitch, looking strong in defence and not allowing Lech for anything positive. It has to be told that it was another superb performance by Connor Goldson who looked as a true leader of defence formation. He put almost literally Ishak (who had scored 5 goals in the previous 5 Europa League games) in his own pocket.
In the second half Rangers used more often Borna Barisić and the left side in overall. Time after time Barisić was exchanging passes with Kamara and Aribo what could not be dealt by Lech’s defence. Additionally Cedric Itten started to show more confidence in his display. He made few interesting passes, intercepted some balls and looked very aggressive to put the pressure on host’s defenders.
In the 55th minute of the game McLoughlin made a crucial save to deny a free kick. Shot by Tymoteusz Puchacz was well saved away for a corner. Until the final whistle Lech was not able to create a chance at least as good as this one. Host struggled a lot in the second half as Rangers protected their final third extremely well.
With the 72nd minute on the clock the job was almost done. Firstly Connor Goldson intercepted the pass on the Lech’s half and immediately he was fouled. The set piece was sent in the box, Goldson made a shot into a bar, a ball touched the line and the rebound was collected by Hagi who made it 2-0 for Rangers.
Few mintues before the second goal Gerrard decided to introduce James Tavernier in place of Patterson. Additionally few minutes after second goal another substitutions were made. The players who got a chance from the bench were: Ryan Kent, Brandon Barker, Calvin Bassey and Alfredo Morelos.
In the final a quarter of hour Rangers still looked as a better and more mature team. Ryan Kent made some runs on the flank as well as James Tavernier on the other side on the pitch. Among Lech’s lack of attacking invention Rangers tried to make it three, however one shot from Kent was punched away for a corner by Filip Bednarek and few other chances was missed due to lack of precise in the last pass.
It was another great European night by Rangers marked with a convincing win with another clean sheet. Despite designating a squad consisting of 5 fringe players in the starting eleven, Rangers looked over the course of the 90 minutes as better team. Well deserved win.