IN perhaps the most dramatic circumstances imaginable, Rangers are once again off to the Europa League Group Stages!
Alfredo Morelos’ injury-time winner against Legia Warsaw tonight cued scenes of utter delirium inside Ibrox, the likes of which haven’t been seen for many a year to send the Light Blues into tomorrow’s glamour draw in Monaco.
From the side which faced St Mirren in the Scottish Premiership on Sunday, boss Steven Gerrard made four changes to his starting XI.
Out went Filip Helander, Glen Kamara, Jordan Jones and Jermain Defoe, with their places in the XI taken by Nikola Katic, Steven Davis, Sheyi Ojo and Alfredo Morelos.
The game began at a quite wicked pace, and after superb work from Morelos and Scott Arfield to press Legia high up the park and win the ball back, Morelos was fouled on the edge of the area, though the ball broke for the incoming Ojo on the edge of the box who curled a first-time effort just wide.
Morelos then had a sparkling opportunity to put his side ahead on 10 minutes as a super Ryan Jack cross met his head inside the six-yard box, but he nodded wide of the target under no pressure.
Minutes later, as again Gers pressed so well, Morelos squared inside for Joe Aribo, the midfielder opting to try and pick a pass through to Ojo in the area – but under severe scrutiny from Igor Lewczuk, he was only able to poke a weak effort into the gloves of Radoslaw Majecki.
The home side were well on-top, and Morelos again came close as Aribo released him to charge in goal, and while his shot after cutting inside Lewczuk was powerful, it was well-held by Majecki.
Luquinhas provided a major scare for Rangers on 34 minutes, dancing his way inside both James Tavernier and Connor Goldson, though his final shot was easily held by Allan McGregor.
Gers soon established their dominance once again at the start of the second half, and Morelos was denied again in the box as three or four Legia bodies threw themselves to block his shot following good Tavernier work.
The two were then inches away from linking-up again, with Morelos denied a tap-in by the block of Artur Jedrzejczyk as Tavernier cut-in from the right wing to play a delicious ball into the six-yard box.
Majecki made a super save from Ojo to his top-right as Gerrard’s men continued to push, before Morelos had a shot deflected behind at the last possible moment at the end of the same attack.
Legia hadn’t really featured in an attacking sense in the second half, but Andre Martins was a whisker away with a dipping volley on 83 minutes which only just cleared McGregor’s crossbar.
Four minutes later, and Nikola Katic had a headed effort from a Tavernier corner just clear the bar, while Ojo had another effort from distance which was held by Majecki.
It was end-to-end stuff as time ticked over into the 90th-minute, with Jaroslaw Niezgoda missing a great chance to win the game for Legia, but he fluffed his lines.
And then, it happened.
Nikola Katic, who’d been simply wonderful all night for Rangers, again pressed high and won the ball around 40-yards from goal. He sprayed a terrific ball wide to the left for substitute Jordan Jones, with the Ulsterman delivering an inch-perfect cross.
And there he was. Up between the two centre-halves, Alfredo Morelos bulleted a sublime header beyond Majecki to create complete and utter pandemonium around all four sides of Ibrox.
It was a moment never to be forgotten by any fan here, and neither will it be forgotten by any of the players or indeed boss Gerrard, who charged down the track in celebration of a wonderful moment for the club.
The remainder of injury time was seen off without incident, and once again, Gers have at least six more European matches to look forward to this season.
What. A Night!
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic (Flanagan, 64); Aribo, Jack, Davis; Ojo (Kamara, 90), Morelos, Arfield (Jones, 72).
SUBS: Foderingham, Helander, Defoe, Stewart.
BOOKED: Barisic (60’), Tavernier (70’), Katic (80’).
LEGIA WARSZAWA: Majecki, Lewczuk, Gvilia, Rocha, Martins, Cafu, Vesovic, Stolarski (Nagy, 73), Jedrzejczyk, Luqinhas, Kulenovic (Niezgoda, 56)
SUBS: Cierzniak, Jodlowiec, Wieteska, Antolic, Carlitos..
BOOKED: Stolarski (38’)
REFEREE: Mr Slavko Vincic (SVN)