RANGERS are through to the Round of 32 in this season’s UEFA Europa league after completing their Group G fixtures with a draw against Young Boys at Ibrox.
After the disappointment of losing the League Cup final on Sunday, Steven Gerrard’s men started tonight’s game positively, with Alfredo Morelos giving the Light Blues a deserved lead on 30 minutes with an ice-cool finish.
From there they continued to dominate for long spells but in the latter stages the visitors, needing a win on the night to qualify, rallied and they equalised with two minutes remaining when Borna Barisic put the ball in his own net.
That set up a tense and dramatic finish and a second booking for Ryan Jack meant the club’s fans had to endure four nervy minutes of injury time before they were able to celebrate Rangers booking their place in the next round draw in Nyon on Monday.
The result tonight means Gerrard’s proud players have finished in second place in Group G with nine points from six games, with Porto at the top with 10 points after their 3-2 home victory over Feyenoord.
The manager named just one change to his side tonight. From the starting eleven which lined up at the national stadium at the weekend, the single alteration was an enforced one with Nikola Katic taking the place of the injured Filip Helander.
That meant a back five of Allan McGregor in goals with captain James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic and Barisic in front of him. Jack, Glen Kamara and Scott Arfield started in the midfield while up front Ryan Kent and Joe Aribo supported Morelos.
With over vociferous 2,500 Young Boys fans in the stadium, the pre-match atmosphere was electric, as it always is for these big European nights, with Rangers shooting towards the Broomloan Stand in the first half.
The home side enjoyed a great start to the match, showing a real hunger and desire to get at the visitors’ backline and win the early individual battles.
The first attempt at goal came in the seventh minute when Scott Arfield found space 18 yards out, but the Canadian international’s powerful shot was blocked.
Rangers were well in control when the next goal-scoring opportunity came around, with Barisic playing a low cross into the near post but, after making a terrific run, Arfield’s first-time shot was deflected into the side netting.
With 20 minutes on the clock a great through pass from Aribo found Morelos in behind the Young Boys defence but with just David von Ballmoos to beat, the Colombian hit the goalkeeper’s legs. He would have been disappointed not to score.
The Gers star wouldn’t make the same mistake just before the hour mark as he bagged his 26th goal of a remarkable season and his 14th in the Europa League.
Nicolas Burgy was guilty of a slack pass which Ryan Kent intercepted before he played it forward in Morelos’ direction.
Frederik Sorensen got their first but his poor touch allowed the Colombian to nip in and dart towards goal. With great composure he curled a low shot beyond Von Ballmoos and into the net.
The goal was no more than Rangers deserved and, with Young Boys struggling to create any kind of chance in the last third, Gerrard’s players started to shift through the gears.
On 36 minutes a brilliant cross from the once again impressive Barisic was met by Aribo but his header curled agonisingly wide of the post.
Nevertheless, the Ibrox faithful were enjoying what they were seeing while the supporters in yellow and black must have been covering their eyes as the Gers heaped pressure on the goal at their end of the pitch.
A minute before half-time Gerardo Seoane’s men produced their only real moment of note in the first half, with Ulisses Garcia whipping in a fine cross from the left and Christian Fassnacht headed over the bar.
With just two minutes of the second half played Morelos again showed his talent to create something out of nothing. Tavernier played the ball down the right wing for his teammate who let the ball run through him before he darted effortless past Sorensen.
El Bufalo ran fully 30 yards towards goal and then unleashed a powerful drive from a tight angle which Von Ballmoos did well to save on this occasion.
A frustrating booking for Ryan Jack on 63 minutes for a late tackle meant the midfielder would already have missed Rangers’ next game in the competition and in the next attack McGregor had to be sharp to make an excellent save, tipping the ball over the bar from another Fassnacht header.
With Young Boys needing a victory, it was inevitable they would throw players forward and go for broke in the latter stage of the game which, in turn, left spaces at the back.
Morelos tried to exploit them, with Von Ballmoos diving low to his right to palm away the effort with no Rangers players making up the ground to knock the rebound into the empty net.
It was now end-to-end football and on 88 minutes it was the Swiss side that were rewarded for their pressure. Substitute Felix Mambimbi shot across McGregor from the left and Barisic, at full stretch, diverted the ball into the net to silence the Rangers fans in the found Ibrox stands.
When Jack was sent off the tension was palpable and despite squandering a couple of good opportunities to counter attack, Rangers held on to claim the point which takes the club proudly through to the knockout rounds.
RANGERS (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier, Katic, Goldson, Barisic; Arfield, Jack, Kamara; Kent (Ojo 77), Morelos, Aribo
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Flanagan, Halliday, Barker, Stewart, Defoe
GOALS: Morelos 30
RED CARD: Jack
YOUNG BOYS (4-3-3): Von Ballmoos; Janko, Burgy, Sorensen, Garcia; Fassnacht, Aebischer, Martins Pereira (Mambimbi 73); Moumi Ngamaleu (Spielmann 60), Assale, Nsame (Hoarau 60)
SUBS: Wolfli, Zesiger, Petignat, Lotomba
GOALS: Barisic 88og
REF: Felix Brych (GER)