GOALS from Alfredo Morelos and Steven Davis in the 69th and 73rd minutes gave Rangers a stunning victory over Porto on matchday four of the UEFA Europa League.
On a quite remarkable night at Ibrox Stadium the Light Blues moved into second place in Group G – level on points with leaders Young Boys – with another impressive display in the competition.
With the Gers defence rock-solid in front of the ever-dependable Allan McGregor, Morelos’ strike for the opening goal was sensational. That’s 21 in all competitions for the Colombian star this season and 11 in Europe.
Davis quickly doubled his side’s advantage with a deflected strike from 20 yards and the stadium erupted once again as the players celebrated in style.
Steven Gerrard made just once change to his side for this evening’s clash, reverting to the eleven which faced the Portuguese outfit in the Estadio do Dragao a fortnight ago. That meant Brandon Barker came back in for Sheyi Ojo in the attacking area, with the team otherwise unchanged.
As kick-off approached fans in the Broomloan Stand waved red, white and blues flags and displayed a banner with ‘We Fear No Foe’, bringing great colour to an already electric atmosphere as the players emerged from the tunnel.
Porto, wearing their all yellow kit and shooting towards the Copland Road end, got the action underway but it was the Rangers players that retained possession well in the first few minutes as both teams tried to settle into the game on a cold night in Glasgow’s south side.
The visitors, however, quickly got into their stride with Mateus Uribe having the first shot from distance which was deflected wide of Allan McGregor’s goal.
From the corner that followed Pepe, positioned at the near post, flicked the ball over the Gers number one and Glen Kamara had to be sharp to make a crucial goal-line clearance to keep the score at nil-nil.
Porto were certainly showing an attacking intent as they impressed in the early stages, with the home support getting behind the Gers players as they tried to create chances themselves.
After winning a free-kick 25 yards out on the left wing, Morelos gestured to his teammates to lift their game but the delivery from captain James Tavernier curled into the arms of goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin.
Before the half-hour mark Ryan Kent shot high and wide of target with an ambitious volley as Rangers attempted to ramp up the pressure and shift through the gears.
On 30 minutes Ryan Jack won a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the park which released Kent on the breakaway. He looked up and saw Morelos free in the middle but his whipped cross from the right wing was cleared by a defender.
At the other end of the pitch McGregor produced the best moment of the game up to this point – the 33rd minute – when a dangerous free-kick was delivered into the 18-yard box.
Francisco Soares’ header looked to be going into the top corner but McGregor was there to make a stunning fingertip stop, not realising the Main Stand linesman had already flagged for offside.
A somewhat scrappy first forty-five ended with Rangers on the attack, with Tavernier finding himself in a good crossing position. His cutback found Barker who shot over before putting his hands on his head, knowing it was a good chance squandered.
With no goals scored it was all to play for in the second period for both teams, with Feyenoord beating Young Boys 1-0 in De Kuip in Group G’s other match at the interval.
Porto suffered an early setback after the break, with influential centre-back Pepe pulling up with a hamstring injury and he was replaced by Luis Diaz, who scored against Rangers on matchday three in Portugal.
On 52 minutes the Gers fans were back out their seats after tenacious play from Tavernier won a corner which was played short before Barisic delivered. The ball came back out to Kent who shimmied then blasted a left-foot drive which flew across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
It was positive play from the winger who, with an hour played, hit a low shot from 18 yards which brought out a good save from Marchesin, who dived low to his right to palm the ball around the post.
With 65 minutes played Gerrard made his first change to his team, with Scott Arfield replacing Brandon Barker, but within a minute of the Canadian’s introduction Connor Goldson had to make a netbound clearance after Wilson Manafa volleyed a deep cross towards goal.
That was to be an important moment in the contest as in the next attack of note Morelos opened the scoring with a stunning finish.
Ryan Jack on the right wing did well to find the red-hot Colombian who took one touch before firing the ball into the far bottom corner of the net from 16 yards.
Rangers fans almost raised the roof of Ibrox as they celebrated El Bufalo’s goal, and three minutes later they were in dreamland as Davis made it 2-0.
The Northern Ireland legend tried his luck from 20 yards out and a wicked deflection took it past the helpless Marchesin.
The noise in the stadium was deafening and it increased even more when Morelos was replaced by Defoe. Once again the club’s prolific number 20 had played his part in a big win on the European stage and he clearly enjoyed the moment as he walked off the pitch to a standing ovation from the Ibrox faithful. What a night at Ibrox!
RANGERS (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Davis, Jack, Kamara; Barker (Arfield 65), Morelos (Defoe 85), Kent (Aribo 83)
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Edundson, Ojo, Flanagan, Aribo
GOALS: Morelos 69, Davis 73
PORTO (4-2-3-1): Marchesin; Manafa, Marciano, Pepe (Diaz 47), Telles; Mbemba, Danilo; Otavio (Silva 73), Uribe, Corona; Soares (Ze Luis 64)
SUBS NOT USED: D. Costa, B. Costa, Nakajima, Saravia
BOOKINGS: Danilo, Otavio, Diaz
REF: Davide Massa (ITA)