Servette 1-1 Rangers

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By Fraser Martin

A sweltering night in Geneva as those Genevois who haven’t left the city for the traditional  late summer break flock to a stadium sold out for the first time in 20 years. The Swiss euro night crowd is very much a family affair with couples, young girls, families and a distinct lack of colours filling the ground with anticipation.

Rangers lined up with a familiar defence, grit and steel in the middle and pace and trickery up front, a surprisingly progressive lineup from Michael Belae, with both Sima and Danilo offering outballs, pace and options for the free roaming Todd Cantwell.

A suitably Presbyterian hymn for the Protestant citadel of the Reformation rang out with five minutes to go, before normal service was resumed, an impressive tifo at both ends, giving the impression of the Play Off round, rather than the more prosaic stage at which we find ourselves, €5m jackpot ot not.

Rangers kicked off, in a rarely seen all white ensemble, attacking North towards the Servette ultras (who made their feelings known to the arrivistes in their midst, bemoaning ‘10,000 fans, 20,000 opportunists’).

The opening action saw comfortable Rangers possession, especially through the effervescent Todd Cantwell, with new addition Jose Cifuentes also looking very much in the mood, his powerful running complimented passes probing the available open space.

Those awaiting a ‘Greegsy’ moment to cement the fast growing reputation of our new #1 got a first sight of Jack Butland’s shot stopping prowess with a superb block, as Timothe Cognat ran onto a delightful through pass from Bedia, Rangers sliced open down their left flank.

The Light Blues returned the serve on 11 minutes, with Raskin feeding Cantwell on the Servette right, he danced past his man and raced toward the penalty area, before being hauled down millimetres from the penalty area chalk. The resulting free kick was hammered into the wall by Tavernier, then blasted out of play as the captain lashed the rebound into the red mass behind the goal.

Servette’s growing confidence was underlined with their first corner on 17 minutes, but as became typical, they failed to clear the first man. Both teams were comfortable without threatening as the first quarter came to an end, but the chess match turned on its head as Servette took the lead. We have had to write this sentence with depressing regularity over the years, however, once again, Rangers found themselves a goal down as failure to clear their lines was punished with a worldy. Dereck Kutesa charging onto a loose ball on the Servette left smashed an unstoppable spearing drive into the opposite postage stamp.

As Servette took confidence, the previously sparkling Cifuentes in particular, and Rangers in general, lost shape and found themselves squeezed ever tighter by a high Servette defensive line, backing up a front loaded attack,  up to five Servette attackers pressing the Rangers rearguard. This tactic left space in behind and Rangers should have taken advantage, as Tavernier found space on the right and delivered one of his typical specials that flashed across the six yard line, finding Danilo with an open goal on the angle at the back post. The ghost of Van Vossen was rekindled as the Brazilian skied over when it seemed impossible to miss.

Butland pulled off his second wonder stop of the evening on 38 minutes as Rangers were caught napping, Servette’s main striker came from his own half to bear down on the ‘Gers goal.

The half ended with a final Servette break that was eventually forced out for a corner with the first man again being struck as the Swiss continued to waste valuable set piece plays.

The second half was an entirely different affair, with Rangers finding consistent joy in the Servette half. Cantwell, Cifuentes and Raskin both dominating and finding gaps, particularly down the inside right channel. On 50 minutes it was Raskin with a rasping drive from 25 yards that forced keeper Mall into a tip over for a Gers corner. The resulting cross was fresh air swiped by Cantwell but the ball was moved to the Rangers left and Barasic, as so often on these euro nights, delivered an inch perfect cross for Tavernier to nod home at the far post. Ecstasy to go with the marijuana and coca in the stands.

The next 20 minutes were characterised by consistent Servette errors, misplaced passes and sloppy play in attack, leading to an ever tightening grip on proceedings for the Light Blues midfield, Raskin in particular imposing himself across the middle and down both wings.

Michael Beale decided to freshen things up on the hour with the impressive Sima and luckless Danilo making way for Sam Lammers and Cyrile Dessers. Ten minutes later it was that man Raskin again, firing a cross to Dessers who headed just over. The game was now almost exclusively in the Servette final third with only a comfortable Butland save from a long range Samba drive in 79 minutes concerning the Bears in the far corner.

As time ticked toward the 90, Tod Cantwell showed the strength and desire that, allied to devillment, skill and vision, has made him so beloved of the Gers faithful, putting his body on the line to prevent a Servette attack down the Rangers left.

Seven minutes of injury time were announced and the capacity crowd made one last effort to will their team on.  Their raising of the roof almost paid off as a slick passing move saw Butland smother at his near post before Servette number 30, Samba Diba, headed over, the Rangers defence coming under its first sustained pressure of the half.

Keiran Dowell was introduced and killed time superbly in the Servette corner as Rangers held on in relative comfort for a well deserved draw, bringing with it the opportunity to face a return with PSV, complete with guaranteed cash jackpot, next Tuesday.

Post match, Beale was guarded in his praise as he focussed on the need to maintain growth, listen to instructions, cut out the fancy stuff (tricks are still, apparently, for the circus) and facilitate the continued implementation of his vision for the 1st XI.

Next week will look after itself, tonight the home truths delivered at half time ensured Rangers earned the right to eliminate PSV for the second time in 12 months, once again on the road to Champions League redemption.

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