Rangers are one step away from the Champions League and what they will not unreasonably regard as the completion of a redemption story after their financial implosion in 2012. Union Saint-Gilloise went into this second leg two goals in favor They left Ibrox giddy. The Rangers progressed into the playoff round with swagger. The prospect of the two halves of the Old Firm playing in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2007-08 remains alive. PSV Eindhoven stand between Rangers and their holy grail.
“The pressure was on us,” Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst said. “I’m very proud of my players. They played with passion, fire and desire. It was an amazing night for all of us.”
Last week’s display in Belgium had been widely described as Rangers’ poorest since Van Bronckhorst was appointed last November. Under Van Bronckhorst and his immediate predecessor, Steven Gerrard, Rangers have been formidable against foreign opposition. In fact, they were finalists in the Europa League in May.
Rangers opened the second leg in a manner that suggested they had a point to prove. Antonio Colak headed in a free-kick from James Tavernier. However, in the first quarter of the game, the Rangers had not managed to mark their dominance with the first goal. When Siebe Van der Heyden curled a free header wide of the home goal, murmurs of concern were evident from the packed Ibrox stands. USG, who barely looked like a side capable of troubling the cream of Europe, held firm. Colak came close to easing the frustrations. From a threatening Tom Lawrence free-kick, the Croatian pulled off an acrobatic header from Anthony Moris.
Colak’s two chances, however, were the sum total of Rangers’ efforts in the first half before they were presented with the perfect chance from 12 yards. Van der Heyden was the offender, with the handball after Borna Barisic had sent a cross into the USG penalty area. Van der Heyden missed his header completely. Tavernier did what Tavernier does in these situations, to give Rangers a crucial boost at the interval.
At 13 minutes after the restart, the tie was even. Colak could barely miss from a yard out after Moris had beaten Scott Arfield’s shot into the air. After USG unsuccessfully appealed for offside against Colak, the Rangers knew they had more than enough time to complete a change. As Moris saved smartly from John Lundstram, it was a question of when rather than if the hosts would claim their third goal of the night. USG seemed unable to launch a response.
A brief spell of concern for the Rangers followed, but only that. James Sands appeared to be headed for an early bathroom after the referee showed him a second yellow card following a tackle on Dante Vanzeir. After consulting with one of his aides, the Greek official, Anastasios Sidiropoulos, reversed his decision. Sands survived. So did Rangers keeper Jon McLaughlin, who had put Sands in danger with a short pass.
This moment of drama was soon forgotten. Moris was at fault after failing to clear a Barisic cross that really shouldn’t have posed any danger. As Moris spun and missed, Malik Tillman picked the perfect spot to nod in his first Rangers goal. A three-goal lead for Van Bronckhorst’s men was fully deserved on the balance of play.
Alfredo Morelos, recovering from a long-term injury, entered the fray as Rangers kept their foot on the accelerator. The Rangers didn’t get a fourth, but they didn’t need one either. USG’s frustrations were summed up by Lazare Amani, whose stoppage-time dissent earned the Ivorian a second booking. Verbal volleys were the only thing left for the Belgians.
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