Rangers claim vital away win in Europa League
Rangers produced an outstanding result in Croatia on Thursday night '“ defeating Osijek 1-0 in the first leg of Qualifying Round Two with Alfredo Morelos notching the crucial winner.
The result certainly gives the Ibrox men a clear opportunity to progress to round three with a third successive clean sheet – but as Steven Gerrard would no doubt emphasise it is only half-time in the tie with Osijek paying the penalty for slack finishing at times.
There was a surprise team selection from the manager for Rangers’ first-ever game in Croatia with three changes from last week’s draw in Skopje with Ovie Ejaria making his first start in place of Josh Windass with debuts for both Ryan Kent and Lassana Coulibaly with Daniel Candeias and Ross McCrorie dropping down to the substitutes’ bench.
With the temperature having reached 32C during the day, it was obvious that the heat and humidity at the stadium would play a part in the proceedings.
Rangers – wearing red and black – settled quickly – but the first real chance of the evening fell to the home side in nine minutes, when from a long throw by Alen Grgic the ball broke to Mirko Maric whose left-foot volley was just too high.
Suddenly the Ibrox men were under pressure – two minutes later that man Grgic cut in from the left only to see his effort from the edge of the area deflected wide.
Osijek were stepping up the pace with the Croatian fans increasing the volume of their backing – one lightning attack down the left soon afterwards saw Borna Barisic’s quick cross find Maric who at full stretch stabbed the ball wide.
It looked like the home side were beginning to turn the screw - but a quick break down the left by Kent saw the on-loan debutant cut inside only to see his shot deflected wide.
No matter – from the resultant Jamie Murphy corner the ball broke to James Tavernier whose cross was nodded into the net by the stooping Morelos on eighteen minutes.
It was the Colombian striker’s first goal of the new season – and potentially a priceless away counter.
Osijek were still making the running however – with the half-hour fast approaching another Barisic cross was not effectively cleared, enabling Robert Mudrazija to test Allan McGregor with a low shot from the edge of the area that the ‘keeper held comfortably.
The interval arrived with Rangers still holding that narrow advantage – but the visitors’ goal was soon under siege upon the restart with both substitute Peter Bockaj and Grgic having efforts blocked.
Somehow the Ibrox men survived – and despite continuous Osijek pressure the score-line remained unchanged as the clock passed the hour mark, although McGregor had to be alert when another Barisic cross found Maric whose shot was blocked by the ‘keeper’s legs.
Midway through the half Windass was subbed for Jamie Murphy as they began to take the sting out of the game and Ross McCrorie was introduced for Ovie Ejaria in the 78th minute.
Osijek: Malenica; Sorsa (Bockaj 45), Loncar, Skoric, Barisic; Grgic, Mudrazija, Pusic (Hajradinovic 79), Mioc (Lyopa 61); Henty, Maric
Unused Subs: Pilj, Santini, Tomelin, Radeljic
Rangers: McGregor; Tavernier, Katic, Goldson, Flanagan; Kent, Jack, Ejaria (McCrorie 78), Coulibaly, Murphy (Windass 68); Morelos (Middleton 90)
Unused Subs: Alnwick, Halliday, Candeias, Docherty
Referee: Pawel Gil (Poland).