STEVEN GERRARD couldn’t hide his pride as his Rangers side made it through to the Europa League Last 16 with a sensational win over Braga tonight.
Leading 3-2 following last week’s unforgettable Ibrox first leg, Gers were just wonderful in Portugal tonight to net a winning goal through Ryan Kent and keep the competition’s top scorers out at the other end.
Speaking to Rangers Media, boss Gerrard beamed: “I am proud of all the players to a man, especially the ones that traveled here tonight because it was a very, very tough challenge against a good, dangerous team.
“They have a young coach who has got them in fantastic form and we are the first team to beat them twice in the space of a week.
“So the players deserve all the credit for going out and delivering, and I am pleased for the supporters as well – I can still hear them behind me now 30 minutes after the final whistle.
“So I am really pleased and proud of everyone at the club because it has been a bit of a rollercoaster of late and tonight is obviously a real big high and a special achievement.”
The way Gers kept their shape through the 90 minutes was outstanding, and Gerrard continued: “I think we experienced last week, if we are not in the right shape and people within that shape want to play with ego and go missing on us, it is very difficult against top-quality opposition.
“Once we got that shape back last week, we proved that on the regain, we could go and hurt Braga. So the plan was pretty-much to stick to what happened in the last 30 minutes last week which was to be really organised, compete and be aggressive.
“No problem if their back five have the ball as they are not going to hurt us and then when they turn it over and they are open, go and execute.
“We could have scored two or three really good goals tonight – Sheyi [Ojo] has had a fantastic effort, we got one ruled out for offside, Ryan Kent could have got two tonight and Hagi could have scored a pen.
“So to a man tonight we have carried out a game-plan really, really well so the players deserve all the credit for that.”
Every one of the 11 players made a huge contribution tonight – not least George Edmundson who came into the side for his first Europa League-proper start.
“First and foremost,” explained Gerrard, “I got a feeling he was ready. He has been ready for a while and he waited patiently for an opportunity.
“They don’t come much bigger than away against Braga against that level of opponent. I thought Connor was outstanding as well next to him and as a pair, they were absolutely faultless, so I am really proud of both of them.”
The manager then went on to look ahead to Saturday’s Scottish Cup trip to Hearts, and he added: “We have got to back it up now. The first six months of the season, I was really proud and pleased with our form and our hunger, and us backing ourselves wherever we went.
“That has gone missing a little bit at times since the return, but I have just said to the players there, when they commit to a challenge to a man, and they focus on the challenge, we are a formidable team and that is what we have proved tonight.”