RANGERS emerged victorious from a crazy game here in Herning tonight as they turned-in a superb performance to defeat a strong FC Midtjylland side.
At one point, Gers led 3-0 through Alfredo Morelos, Joe Aribo and Nikola Katic before the home side pulled two quick goals back. However, Scott Arfield’s 70th-minute strike means Midtjylland need at least three at Ibrox next Thursday.
From the side which defeated Kilmarnock in the dying moments at Rugby Park on Sunday, boss Steven Gerrard made four changes.
Coming back in were Allan McGregor, now free from suspension, fit-again Jon Flanagan, Glen Kamara and Jordan Jones. They replaced Wes Foderingham, Borna Barisic, Steven Davis and Sheyi Ojo.
There was a quite terrific atmosphere inside the compact MCH Arena as the teams emerged, but the noise of the home crowd was tempered somewhat by Gers making a decent start.
While chances were at a real premium, when the visitors had the ball, they were able to keep it quite well and prevent Midtjylland from really threatening them at all in the opening stages.
The Light Blues forced a number of early corners, while James Tavernier, as he did on Sunday to superb effect, made an excellent, driving run from right-back with his final cross having to be diverted behind well by Alexander Scholz before it could reach Alfredo Morelos.
Morelos then did well to spin Erik Sviatchenko on the far corner of the box, but his immediate shot from there could find only the side netting.
Midtjylland, living up to their pre-match build-up of being set-piece specialists, looked especially dangerous from the long-throw of Joel Andersson, with both Scholz and Sory Kaba coming close on the end of his shy.
Kaba came close once more, with Allan McGregor making an excellent stop from him at the back-post, while Scott Arfield flashed a ball across the face of goal at the other end, with their being no takers for Gerrard’s men.
But then, with three minutes to go before half-time, Rangers grabbed a potentially priceless away goal.
Ryan Jack fed James Tavernier down the right wing, and, as he so often does, he dug out an absolutely top-drawer cross.
Peeling off marker Scholz, Alfredo Morelos met the cross and bulleted a header through goalkeeper Jesper Hansen to spark incredible scenes among the 600 away supporters behind that goal.
It was superb timing, coming just before the interval, but if one away goal was pretty good for Gers, two would be simply wonderful.
And, six minutes after the restart, Gers got their second.
Released after a Midtjylland attack broke down, Jordan Jones still had the home side’s two, towering centre-halves to deal with, but he kept his head up and kept running at them until spying the run of Joe Aribo to his left.
Jones’ ball reached Aribo just as he entered the penalty area, and he sent a beautiful finish beyond the reach of Hansen and into the back of the net.
It was incredible from Gers, and wonderful was almost incredible soon after, with Jones seeing a deflected effort clip the top of the bar.
However, from the resulting corner, incredible did arrive. From the left, Jones’ ball was cleared, but only as far as Glen Kamara on the edge of the area. The Finn nodded the ball back into the box, and into the path of Nikola Katic who shifted the ball onto his right foot and found the far bottom corner of the net.
56 minutes had been played by this point, but the next six threatened to alter the course of the game with Midtjylland pulling two goals back.
Firstly, leaving themselves slack at the back, Frank Ogochukwu was able to receive the ball in the box and turn and finish beyond McGregor.
Then, soon after, Sory Kaba pulled the score back to 3-2 as he was able to drift across the 18-yard line and pick his spot to again beat McGregor.
At this point, Gers could have panicked, but rather than that, they got their foot on the ball and began to re-take control, with that culminating in their fourth goal of a crazy evening.
Tavernier released Morelos down the right and his cutback found Scott Arfield, stationed on the penalty spot with the Canadian captain able to dig the ball out of his feet and find the bottom-left corner.
It re-established that cushion for Gers, and from there, despite the home side still posing a threat from set-pieces, they were able to close the game down and see it out to take a very favourable advantage back to Glasgow next week.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan; Aribo, Kamara, Jack; Jones (Ojo, 82), Morelos, Arfield (Docherty, 82).
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Edmundson, Defoe, Davis, Barisic.
BOOKED: Jack, 80’, Flanagan 88’, Morelos, 88’, Aribo, 89′.
FC MIDTJYLLAND: Hansen, Sparv, Andersson, Kaba, Ferreira, Scholz, Nicolaisen (Mabil, 72), Sviatchenko, Ogochukwu, Cajuste, Wikheim.
SUBS NOT USED: Andersen, Poulsen, Okosun, Majrekar, Anderson, Dos Santos.
Booked: Nicolaisen 49’, Ferriera, 80’.