Thursday 19th August 2021
Europa League Play-off
By Lee Clark
A spirited second half display with only 10 men couldn’t mask Steven Gerrard’s disappointment, as Rangers edged ahead in the tie, on a frustrating night at Ibrox. James Tavernier and Alfredo Morelos combined (yet again) to score the only goal of the game, in a match that should’ve been much more comfortable, than it was, for the Scottish Champions. Steven Gerrard has much to ponder, particularly after a turgid first half which saw Rangers new boy, John Lundstram see red for two bookable offences, moments which seemed to epitomise Rangers’ play in the opening 45 minutes.
This was very much a game of two halves from the Light Blues, and Gerrard couldn’t hide his anger, post-match, at his sides offering in the first period. That wasn’t good enough and he made sure that the players knew it!
It had all started so positively too, the players were greeted to a raucous Ibrox, packed to the rafters and buoyed by the news of a new signing (Juninho Bacuna) a short time before kick-off. Rangers responded in kind and started the game at a frantic pace, looking to overwhelm the visitors, who barely got out of their own box in the first 10 minutes. Hagi had an early shot, Bassey, Hagi and Aribo looked to be gelling nicely and, even though, Kent spurned a glorious chance on 21 minutes, you got the feeling it was a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ for Rangers to take hold of this game and go into the second leg with a comfortable lead.
That was as good as it got however. A nervousness started to creep across the team and you could feel the frustration building in the stands. Too many ‘safe’ passes and not enough urgency, culminated in Lundstram picking up a second caution for a needless tug. It was one the Ibrox new boy will want to forget, particularly as he had already been booked for a similar foul and he rightly walked, to bring a 45 minutes to forget to a conclusion.
Gerrard’s focus in the aftermath of this game was, very much on the turgid offering in the first period although it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Rangers. Scott Wright replaced the ineffective Ryan Kent at the break and he started the half very much like a guy that had a point to prove. With the tirelessly working Hagi, supporting from deep he, along with help from the ever-competent Steven Davis, carved out a glorious chance for Morelos, his header just slipping past the post. Rangers were in the ascendancy now and Wright seemed to be at the heart of Rangers positive play, first having a strong shout for a penalty waved away before firing over from 25 yards.
The goal was coming and it duly arrived on 67 minutes. Some quick thinking from Tavernier, collecting the ball deep in his own half, sent Morelos clear and the striker, had time to steady himself before firing home to extend his ridiculous record in this Competition. This had been a quieter game for both Tavernier and the Rangers talisman but, they came up with the goods once again when the chips were down.
The Rangers players know this was far from their best, Ianis Hagi confirming as much post-match as he paid tribute to the Ibrox crowd for sticking with them and roaring the team forward. There is however, some crumb of comfort in the way they dragged themselves to victory in the second half and the ability for big players to produce big moments to edge them closer to yet another Europa League Group Stage and given the patchy start to the campaign any other outcome, is surely unthinkable for Steven Gerrard’s men?