ONLY Legia Warsaw stand between Rangers and a place in the Europa League group stage for a second season in a row following tonight’s convincing win over FC Midtjylland.
Leading 4-2 from last Thursday’s first-leg in Herning, Gers made sure there were to be no nerves at Ibrox tonight with Alfredo Morelos grabbing a double and Sheyi Ojo also netting to put the Light Blues now just one more stop away from their target.
From the side which defeated Hibernian so sensationally 6-1 here in Govan on Sunday, boss Steven Gerrard named three changes.
Out went hat-trick hero Jermain Defoe, his place being taken by Alfredo Morelos, while Joe Aribo and Jordan Jones swapped out for Glen Kamara and Scott Arfield respectively in the familiar 4-3-3 setup.
Going into the game with such a healthy advantage from the first leg, there was a degree of breathing space for Gers, but inside three minutes, Midtjylland showed they were still up for a fight with a superb move taking Alexander Scholz in-behind the home defence. From an acute angle, however, and some good closing from Connor Goldson, the attacker shot just wide of Allan McGregor’s far post.
The home side weren’t long in getting into their stride, though, and they began stroking the ball about with some real purpose and pace on the lush Ibrox turf, with their best early chance falling to Sheyi Ojo. He did exceptionally well to take an Arfield pass on the turn just inside the box, but with a cluster of Danish defenders around him, he shot straight at goalkeeper Jesper Hansen.
Gers’ wonderful play was always likely to lead to further chances, and on 14 minutes came both another opportunity and the opening goal of the match.
From midfield, Scott Arfield superbly released Ojo to maraud clear down the right. His cross reached Alfredo Morelos at the back post, where the Colombian did superbly to step inside Rasmus Nicolaisen and blast the ball home beyond Hansen to join an elite club.
In the club’s history prior to tonight, only 10 players had hit double-figures in European competitions, with Morelos being the 11th – quite a record for someone who has played just 20 times so far for Gers in continental competition.
The Colombian came close to a second soon after, again Arfield with a quick release to put him in, though the angle was closing all the time on him and Hansen was able to turn his effort away for a goal kick.
It took until the 38th minute for the second goal to arrive, and when it did, it began once again with some brilliance from Scott Arfield.
Picking up the ball in his own half this time, he charged forward and rode three Midtjylland tackles before lifting his head and picking out Morelos with an excellent ball, the striker being stationed just to the edge of the box.
He couldn’t take the ball in his stride, but he was able to drift with it to the left of goal and pick out the incoming Sheyi Ojo, who, from close range, netted his third Rangers goal.
Ojo then came close to the third of the night just before the half-time whistle, his free-kick from just outside the area being well turned away by Hansen before it could nestle in the top corner.
The second half for Gers began in much the same way as the first with plenty of energy on the and off the ball, and within three minutes of the restart, it was 3-0 as again Ojo and Morelos combined.
This time, it was Nikola Katic with the ball over the defence and into the path of Ojo, and with the Midtjylland defence screaming for offside, he kept his cool to square superbly for Morelos to emphatically plant the ball in the roof of the net from close-range as Gustav Wikheim worked himself a yard in the Gers’ box.
The visitors did, however, pull a goal back on 72 minutes, some slackness as Gers tried to play out ending with Evander Ferreira netting – much to the disdain of McGregor who berated his defenders.
Sub Jordan Jones almost re-established the three-goal advantage on the night, busting down the left win but having his eventual shot saved low by Hansen.
The goalkeeper then denied Morelos his hat-trick with a save low to his right following an excellent pass from Greg Docherty.
So Gers now travel to Warsaw next week for the Europa League play-off round, with the return leg scheduled for Ibrox on Thursday, August 29.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan; Davis, Kamara, Jack (Docherty, 68); Ojo (Jones, 68), Morelos (Defoe, 81) Arfield.
SUBS: Foderingham, Helander, Aribo, Barisic.
BOOKED: Tavernier, Kamara.
FC MIDTJYLLAND: Hansen, Andersson, Kaba (Dovbyk, 82), Ferriera, Scholz, Nicolaisen, Sviatchenko, Anderson (Sparv, 69), Onyeka, Cajuste, Wikheim.
SUBS: Ottesen, Okosun, Mabil, Manjrekar, Dyhr.
BOOKED: Nicolaisen, Scholz, Mabil.
REFEREE: Marco di Bello (ITA)