Rangers stun Red Star in Europa League

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Leon Balogun scores for Rangers
Could Leon Balogun’s second-half header prove decisive for Rangers in Serbia next week?

Rangers took a significant step towards the Europa League quarter-finals with a pulsating statement win over Red Star Belgrade at a raucous Ibrox.

James Tavernier’s penalty and Alfredo Morelos’ strike in the first 15 minutes sparked the game into life, before Aleksandar Katai – who had already had two efforts ruled offside – had a spot kick saved superbly by Allan McGregor.

That was all in a frantic opening 24 minutes and, although the tempo slowed, Leon Balogun’s towering header gave Rangers a commanding lead to protect.

Inconsistent league form has caused the reigning Scottish champions to slip three points adrift in the Premiership, but they seem to find something within them for European nights, having done for Borussia Dortmund in a famous victory in the previous round.

And Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men rose to the occasion again against the Serbian title holders, giving themselves a golden chance to finish the job next Thursday and reach the last eight of the competition for the first time since 2008.

Having already accounted for Alashkert, Brondby, Sparta Prague and Dortmund in the Europa League, there was a fearless nature about Rangers as Red Star travelled to Govan.

That mentality was demonstrated throughout the 90 minutes as Tavernier – just as he did in both legs against Dortmund – broke the deadlock from the spot after a lengthy VAR check judged Slavoljub Srnic’s lazy leg to have tripped Ryan Kent.

Van Bronckhorst couldn’t watch on the touchline, but the Dutchman opened his eyes to see a bouncing Ibrox as the captain’s penalty rippled in the top-right corner.

That came after Red Star’s Katai had a delightful finish ruled out for offside, and the hosts suffered another scare when Katai rounded McGregor and found the back of the net again, but the striker was against frustrated by the assistant’s flag.

Red Star’s misfortune was Rangers’ gain when the Scottish champions raced up the other end and doubled their lead. Ryan Jack’s clipped cross to the back post headed out to Morelos, who guided a first-time finish on the half-volley into the net.

It was a 32nd Europa League goal for the Colombian – only former Celtic striker Henrik Larsson (40) and ex-Netherlands forward Klaas Jan Huntelaar (34) have scored more in the competition.

Rangers were purring, and with a cleaner connection from Kent, who scuffed a close-range finish into the grateful arms of Borjan, the hosts would have had a remarkable three-goal lead before the halfway stage of the first half.

The Serbs were still posing a threat, though, and had a golden chance of their own to pull a goal back when Jack tugged Mirko Ivanic in the box.

Katai stepped up, but the Red Star forward – who has 23 goals in 34 games so far this term – was denied by McGregor, who flung himself to his right and got a strong wrist behind the fiercely-struck spot kick.

There were a few minutes to catch breath before a little more first-half drama, when scintillating build-up resulted in Kamara skiing over, before Ohi Omoijuanfo’s sliding effort up the other end trickled into the arms of McGregor.

Rangers fans were treated to a memorable Ibrox night against Dortmund, and there was more bedlam in the stadium when Balogun towered above everyone in the area to power in Tavernier’s corner shortly after the break.

Tavernier then had a free-kick curl the wrong side of a post before the captain delivered on three occasions for Goldson, who had one header cleared off the line, another saved by Borjan, and knocked a third wide at the back post.

With Rangers tiring, and a second leg to play, Red Star fought to reduce the deficit and had second-half efforts thwarted by the enduring McGregor.

El Fardou Ben and Katai were both denied at the Rangers keeper’s near post either side of a stunning long-range effort from Guelor Kanga that crashed off the bar.

And with the game in the closing stages, McGregor again had to be alert to deny Ivanic, with Ben Nabouhane’s tap-in on the rebound disallowed by another assistant’s flag, meaning the Ibrox side take a three-goal lead into next Thursday’s second leg.

Man of the match – James Tavernier

James Tavernier
Another game, another goal and another assist in an outstanding all-round display from the captain

What did we learn?

Van Bronckhorst will be understandably elated with his players after yet another notable win in Europe, but the Dutchman must be scratching his head at where these performances are domestically.

There is no doubt about it, if Rangers play like this consistently in the Premiership, they retain the title. But consistency has been lacking this year, and could cost them the championship.

In a game of fine margins, the contest could have been so different if Katai’s penalty or any of Red Star’s three, correctly disallowed, offside goals had gone the other way.

The Serbian champions look a tidy outfit, and while Rangers appear to have one foot in the quarters, they cannot afford to take Stankovic’s men lightly next week in what will be a hostile atmosphere in Belgrade.

What did they say?

Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst to BT Sport: “I’m very pleased, it was a really tough game. The 3-0 scoreline, you wouldn’t expect it when you see the game, but in the end I’m happy we scored three goals.

“You could see the quality of the team, they’re not bad, but I think we performed really well. John [Lundstram] had an important role, we prepared him for the different systems we could play against. He was the key second half.”

Match stats

  • Having lost their opening two Europa League group games this season, Rangers are unbeaten in their last seven, winning four and drawing three.
  • This is the first time they have kept a clean sheet at home in a Europa League knockout tie. They’ve conceded in each of their seven previous games, losing 13 goals in total.
  • Red Star have only won one of their seven matches in Scotland (D2 L4), with that victory in November 1961 against Hibernian in the Fairs Cup.
  • Tavernier has had as many goal involvements in eight Europa League games this season (4 goals, 2 assists) as in his previous 25 European club games (3 goals, 3 assists).
  • The Rangers captain has scored more penalties (3) than any other player in the Europa League this season, while no player has won more penalties than Kent (2).
  • Since his first season in the Europa League in 2018-19, only Munas Dabbur (17) and Bruno Fernandes (16) have scored more goals in the competition than Morelos (15).

What’s next?

Rangers are in Scottish Cup quarter-final duty on Sunday as they go to Dundee (16:00 GMT), before next Thursday’s second leg in Belgrade (17:45).

Player of the match

MorelosAlfredo Morelos

Rangers

  1. Squad number20Player nameMorelos

  2. Squad number2Player nameTavernier

  3. Squad number1Player nameMcGregor

  4. Squad number26Player nameBalogun

  5. Squad number3Player nameBassey

  6. Squad number8Player nameJack

  7. Squad number14Player nameKent

  8. Squad number4Player nameLundstram

  9. Squad number6Player nameGoldson

  10. Squad number18Player nameKamara

  11. Squad number17Player nameAyodele-Aribo

  12. Squad number19Player nameSands

  13. Squad number30Player nameSakala

Red Star Belgrade

  1. Squad number10Player nameKatai

  2. Squad number8Player nameKanga

  3. Squad number82Player nameBorjan

  4. Squad number25Player nameErakovic

  5. Squad number23Player nameRodic

  6. Squad number99Player nameOmoijuanfo

  7. Squad number4Player nameIvanic

  8. Squad number24Player namePiccini

  9. Squad number15Player nameDragovic

  10. Squad number55Player nameSrnic

  11. Squad number35Player nameSanogo

  12. Squad number9Player namePavkov

  13. Squad number2Player nameGajic

  14. Squad number31Player nameBen Nabouhane

  15. Squad number17Player nameMotika

Line-ups

Rangers

Formation 4-2-3-1

  • 1McGregor
  • 2Tavernier
  • 6Goldson
  • 26Balogun
  • 3Bassey
  • 4Lundstram
  • 8JackBooked at 23minsSubstituted forSandsat 75′minutes
  • 17Ayodele-AriboBooked at 30minsSubstituted forSakalaat 75′minutes
  • 18Kamara
  • 14Kent
  • 20Morelos

Substitutes

  • 9Diallo
  • 16Ramsey
  • 19Sands
  • 23Wright
  • 25Roofe
  • 28McCrorie
  • 30Sakala
  • 31Barisic
  • 33McLaughlin
  • 43King
  • 51Lowry

Red Star Belgrade

Formation 4-2-3-1

  • 82Borjan
  • 24PicciniSubstituted forGajicat 72′minutes
  • 25ErakovicBooked at 81mins
  • 15Dragovic
  • 23RodicBooked at 60mins
  • 55SrnicSubstituted forBen Nabouhaneat 61′minutesBooked at 90mins
  • 35SanogoBooked at 25mins
  • 10KataiSubstituted forMotikaat 84′minutes
  • 8Kanga
  • 4Ivanic
  • 99OmoijuanfoSubstituted forPavkovat 61′minutes

Substitutes

  • 1Popovic
  • 2Gajic
  • 6Pankov
  • 7Krsticic
  • 9Pavkov
  • 11Falco
  • 17Motika
  • 30Zivkovic
  • 31Ben Nabouhane
  • 49Radulovic
  • 51Gordic
  • 77Gobeljic

Referee:
Serdar Gözübüyük

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