RANGERS got off to the best possible start in Group G this evening, with a stunning goal from Sheyi Ojo giving Steven Gerrard’s men a deserved victory over Feyenoord on matchday one of the Europa League.
The Light Blues created so many chances on a memorable evening at Ibrox, but in the end it was the on loan Liverpool winger’s terrific left-foot shot on 23 minutes which separated the sides, to the delight of the club’s loyal and vociferous home support.
Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz from Spain got tonight’s match started at 8pm, but only after both sets of fans perfectly observed a moment of silence for Fernando Ricksen.
You could hear a pin drop as 46,858 supporters stood, heads bowed, for the former Ger who passed away yesterday morning after a long and brave battle with motor neurone disease.
The silence turned to applause when the official blew his whistle for a second time and from there the feeling of sadness and loss in the stadium once again turned to anticipation and excitement as kick-off approached.
Steven Gerrard made four changes to his starting line-up. From the side which faced Livingston here at Ibrox on Saturday, out went Nikola Katic, Andy Halliday, Joe Aribo and the injured Ryan Kent, with their places taken by Filip Helander, Borna Barisic, Glen Kamara and Ryan Jack, who all impressed.
The pre-match atmosphere was electric with many of the Rangers supporters wearing orange in tribute to Dutchman Ricksen. And the noise level was cranked up even more as Kamara got the action under way, with Rangers switching ends and shooting towards the Copland Road Stand in the first half.
In the second minute fans joined Gerrard and Feyenoord boss Jaap Stam by applauding Ricksen once again; the former Gers captain of course wore the number two jersey when he was with the club.
The visitors looked lively in the early stages but it was players in blue that were presented with a great opportunity to score from the penalty spot just 10 minutes in. Helander headed the ball off Edgar Ie’s hand in the box after Borna Barisic had curled in a dangerous corner kick.
Rangers’ current number two and captain James Tavernier stepped up and tried to beat Kenneth Vermeer low at the keeper’s left-hand post. It went wide though with the ball clipping the post before hitting the adverting boards.
Despite this blow the Light Blues kept the pressure on and on 19 minutes Kamara fed the ball inside to the unmarked Scott Arfield in the box. His left foot shot hit the inside of Vermeer’s near post and flew across goal before being cleared.
You felt the opener was coming though and on 23 minutes it arrived, and what a strike it was from Ojo!
Barisic did well to win a 50-50 challenge initially before he passed the ball forward to his teammate. With the Feyenoord defenders backing off, Ojo blasted a left foot rocket from 25 yards which fizzed past the goalkeeper, again at his near post, and into the net.
Ibrox was now rocking and the Rangers players were responding on the pitch by playing with just the kind of intensity their gaffer demands from them.
Just after the half hour mark Vermeer had to produce a fine double save to deny Morelos, and after the second shot the ball went back again to the powerful Colombian he attempted to slalom between defenders to hit a third.
A clumsy challenge, however, halted his progress as he headed towards the six yard box but, on this occasion, the ref let play continue when it looked a stone wall penalty.
It was all Rangers in the first half and it was incredible that they hadn’t doubled their advantage before the half-time interval.
On 41 minutes Barisic crossed from the left and a defender headed the ball straight to Ojo who was in acres of space inside the Feyenoord box.
The 22-year-old had time to take a touch and cut inside two defenders who slid in, but with Vermeer also grounded his shot was deflected out for a corner.
After such a one-sided first forty-five you expected a reaction from Feyenoord at the start of the second half, and within two minutes of the restart they really should have been back on level terms.
Orkun Kokcu’s whipped corner fell perfectly for club captain Eric Botteghin who, from eight yards and with no-one around him, headed the ball wide of target, albeit it also took a deflection.
With 52 minutes on the clock Allan McGregor, on his 66th European appearances for the Gers, then produced an excellent fingertip save from Steven Berghuis.
Feyenoord were now pushing players forward in a bid to get back in the game but this was leaving gaps at the back for Rangers to exploit.
On 60 minutes the lively Ojo received the ball 25 yards from goal and, with fans encouraging him to shoot again, he fed it out to Ryan Jack on the right wing. He curled a great return cross back into the danger but the Gers number 11 could only head over from close range.
In an almost identical move 10 minutes later Tavernier supplied a trademark delivery from the right and Arfield this time was guilty of heading over at full stretch from six yards. After Jack had skewed another good opportunity wide, Gerrard made his first change to his side, with Brandon Barker replacing Ojo.
As the clock ticked down the tension in the stadium was palpable as Rangers did everything they could hold on to their slender advantage.
Kamara was booked for a challenge which stopped a Feyenoord counter attack, and as a result he was quickly replaced by Joe Aribo, who added fresh legs for the final few minutes.
As expected the end to the game was fast, furious and nervy with McGregor producing a superb stop from substitute Luciano Narsingh in the 86th minute. But Gerrard’s men – having dominated so much of this game – held on to secure three valuable and deserved Europa League points on a great night at Ibrox.
RANGERS (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier, Helander, Goldson, Barisic; Kamara (Aribo 81), Davis, Jack; Ojo (Barker 72), Morelos, Arfield (King 89)
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Edmundson, Defoe, Halliday
GOALS: Ojo 23
BOOKINGS: Morelos, Helander, Kamara
FEYENOORD (4-3-3): Vermeer; Karsdorp, Edgar Ie, Botteghin, Haps; Kokcu (Narsingh 64), Fer, Tapia; Berghuis, Sinisterra (Toornstra 86), Larsson (Jorgensen 77)
SUBS NOT USED: Bijlow, Senesi, Malacia, Burger
BOOKINGS: Haps, Fer, Tapia
REF: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP)