Alfredo Morelos fights to retain Rangers' number one striker role after equaling Ally McCoist's European scoring record
You can take him out of the firing line but Alfredo Morelos has an unrelenting knack of finding the target when it matters in the Europa League.
On a landmark night for the Colombian international, he broke Lech Poznan’s dogged resistance at Ibrox to equal Rangers’ all-time record of 21 European goals set by the club’s greatest ever striker Ally McCoist.
Seven minutes after coming on as a substitute, Morelos plundered the only goal of the contest with a superb header which maintains Rangers’ winning start to their Group D campaign and extends their unbeaten run in all competitions since the start of the season to 17 games.
Shuffling the pack again
Much has been made about the greater strength, enhanced depth and and improved quality of Steven Gerrard’s squad and once again he made five changes to his starting line-up.
Dropping out of the eleven who kicked off Sunday’s 2-0 win over Livingston were Filip Helander, Calvin Bassey, Ryan Jack, Joe Aribo and Jermain Defoe, the latter not even among the substitutes as he has been omitted from Gerrard’s Europa League squad in a bid to most effectively manage his 38-year-old body through the season.
In came Leon Balogun, Borna Barisic, Glen Kamara, Scott Arfield and Kemar Roofe. It meant a second successive match on the bench for Morelos who now has a real fight on his hands to retain his status as Rangers’ number one striker. He delivered the perfect response.
Big night for Roofe
After his shot which was heard around the football world when he scored from inside his own half in Liege seven days ago, Roofe’s reward was his first appearance in the Rangers starting line-up since the second qualifying round win over Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar back on September 17.
The 27-year-old was short of match fitness when he arrived at the club from Anderlecht in the summer and then picked up a calf injury which has saw him sidelined for six games. Gerrard clearly feels the former Leeds United man is ready to step up his contribution.
But Roofe is perhaps still a little short of optimum match sharpness. He showed some intelligent touches and good movement but scoring opportunities were at a premium. His race was run after 62 minutes when he was replaced by Morelos who wasted no time in grabbing the headlines.
Ibrox return for Rogne
There was a familiar face in the Lech Poznan line-up in the shape of captain Thomas Rogne. The 30-year-old Norwegian central defender played in five Old Firm matches during his time as a Celtic player from 2010 to 2013. Three of those games were at Ibrox, where he was on the winning side once in the 2011 New Year fixture.
Rogne also scored at the Govan ground, a late consolation in the tumultuous 3-2 win for Rangers in March 2012 shortly after the Ibrox club had been plunged into administration.
He almost marked his return to Glasgow with another goal, missing one of the best chances of the night shortly after half-time when he glanced a header wide from close range after the Rangers defence had been caught flat-footed at a well worked free-kick. Rogne performed well overall but was crucially caught out when Morelos stole a yard on him to grab the winner.
Heavy going again
While it could not be compared to the biblical downpour in Belgium last week, which briefly sparked fears the match against Standard Liege might have to be abandoned, the rain which had fallen persistently during the day in Glasgow made the underfoot conditions testing again.
There was little respite as the evening progressed with Lech head coach Dariusz Zuraw even channeling his inner Steve McClaren by standing at the edge of his technical area under an umbrella.
Water skipped up off the surface whenever the ball was played along the deck but Rangers remained largely true to the possession-based ethos which has served them so effectively so far this season.
It wasn’t always the most advisable policy in and around their own penalty area, however, and they were fortunate Lech Poznan didn’t fully capitalise on a first half mix-up between Allan McGregor and Connor Goldson which was eventually scrambled behind for a corner.
Bottom seeds Poznan impress
The visitors had shown a willingness to go toe-to-toe with the group’s top seeds Benfica last week and emerged with credit from that contest despite ultimately losing 4-2.
They were brave and progressive on the ball again here, giving as good as they got from the opening exchanges as Rangers found it more difficult than many might have expected to impose themselves.
Lech right-back Alan Czerwinski epitomised his team’s approach, bursting forward at every opportunity and forcing Barisic onto the back foot more often than Rangers would have liked.
Czerwinksi carved out the first opening of the night when he played in Dani Ramirez, the Spanish midfielder skidding a shot just wide of McGregor’s right hand post.
There were some encouraging and eye-pleasing moments from Rangers’ perspective, notably when Roofe, Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi managed to link up.
Hagi might have done better than miscue a shot wide after clever play from Roofe who was again in an adventurous mood when he attempted an overhead kick which sailed wide of the target.
But those moments were too few and far between for Gerrard’s side in a frustrating first half in which the only attempt on target was a 20 yard shot from Arfield which was easily held by Lech goalkeeper Filip Bednarek.
It was a similar pattern for much of the second half and it seemed Rangers might have to settle for a point – until a brilliant cross from Barisic was matched by Morelos’ momentous goal.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Kamara, Davis, Arfield (Jack 80); Hagi, Roofe (Morelos 62), Kent (Barker 80).
Lech Poznan: Bednarek, Czerwinski, Satka, Rogne, Kravets; Skoras (Sykora 75), Moder, Marchwinksi (Awwad 82), Puchacz, Ramirez (Kacharava 87); Ishak.
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