RANGERS recorded their first win on European soil in over 10 years tonight to hand them the advantage in this Europa League tie ahead of next week’s second leg at Ibrox.
Not since the famous 2-0 win away to Sporting Lisbon in 2008 have Gers won a game in regulation time on the continent, and while they were under pressure for spells of the first-leg with Osijek, the new-look defence held firm while Afredo Morelos, who put in a wonderful shift, grabbed a potentially crucial away goal for his side.
The Light Blues began the match on top, keeping the ball well and creating half an opening for Nikola Katic, who, under pressure, headed a Tavernier free-kick wide.
Osijek barely had a touch for the first 10 minutes or so, but all of a sudden, they burst into life with Mirko Maric firing over as Gers failed to deal with an Alen Grgic long throw before Maric then got himself on the end of a Borna Barisic cross from the left as the home side got beyond the visitors’ backline.
It was a little bit of a storm to weather for Gers, but they did so manfully, and on their first opportunity to get to the other end of the park, they caused the home side two huge problems in quick succession.
Firstly, from the left wing, Ryan Kent cut inside and unleashed a powerful-looking shot, and but for a deflection off the leg of Mile Skoric, he may well have grabbed a debut goal in superb fashion.
The ball did however go for a corner, and from that, Gerrard’s men gave the small band of traveling fans the club’s first away European goal since August 2011 on the 18th minute.
Jamie Murphy ran over to take the set-piece, and he played a quick one-two with Kent who had burst out to support him.
From right-back James Tavernier flew forward to give Murphy an option, which he duly took, before Tavernier delivered an absolutely stunning cross to the back post, and there, Alfredo Morelos was unmarked.
He stooped low to head the ball beyond Marko Malenica and was mobbed by his teammates who recognised the potential significance of his strike.
Afterwards, Rangers began to take control of the game once more without ever really threatening the Osijek goal.
In the other direction, Allan McGregor was largely untested other than a routine save from a Robert Mudrazija shot from the edge of the area which came from a loose Jon Flanagan clearance.
That comfort Rangers had for much of that first half was ripped from them at the start of the second half, however, with Osijek exerting some pretty severe pressure on McGregor’s goal straight from the restart.
Half-time sub Petar Bockaj saw a powerful shot blocked by Connor Goldson, before the ball rebounded to Grgic, and again, a stinging effort from him was cleared superbly by Goldson.
From the resultant corner, Grgic missed yet another opportunity, finding himself free at a corner but heading over the bar. The home side went on to have a succession of corners, but Gers sharpened up and prevented any further chances for the Croatians from the set-piece.
However, a loose touch from the otherwise excellent Goldson presented the ball to Maric, and he forced McGregor into a point-blank save to deny him a leveller.
In injury time, Alfredo Morelos was given the chance to run clear on goal from the halfway line, but Grgic made a superb recovery challenge to deny him.
There is still work to do back at Ibrox for Rangers next week, but they have handed themselves a great chance to progress to the next round thanks to Morelos’ first-half strike.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, Jack, Coulibaly, Ejaria (McCrorie, 78), Murphy (Windass, 68), Kent, Morelos (Middleton.90+4′).
SUBS NOT USED: Alnwick, Halliday, Docherty, Candeias.
OSIJEK: Malenica, Loncar, Barisic, Mioc (Lyopa, 62), Sorsa (Bockaj, 45), Mudrazija, Skoric, Pusic (Hajradinovic, 80), Grgic, Maric, Henty.
SUBS NOT USED: Santini, Tomelin, Radeljic, Pilj.
REFEREE: Pawl Gil (POL)