Rangers claim convincing 4-0 win over Willem II to book Europa League play-off against Galatasaray
Rangers maintained their impressive Europa League form under Steven Gerrard as goals from James Tavernier, Ryan Kent, Filip Helander and Connor Goldson swept aside Willem II in Tilburg.
In what appeared a potentially hazardous third qualifying round tie against the Dutch side, Rangers ultimately ran out comprehensive winners.
They will now face Galatasaray at Ibrox next Thursday night in an intriguing play-off round showdown with the Turkish giants who stand between them and a third consecutive appearance in the group stage of the tournament.
Tavernier’s 50th career goal for Rangers gave them the breakthrough after an opening 20 minutes when Willem II had been the more threatening side but were wasteful in front of goal.
Although the first chance of the night fell to Kent, who was unable to bring a long ball out of defence from Goldson under control inside the hosts’ penalty area in the second minute, Rangers soon found themselves with a sustained spell of defending to do.
Borna Barisic picked up an early booking for a foul on Willem II’s lively right winger Che Nunnely before Spanish midfielder Pol Llonch blazed a shot over from an inviting position just inside the Rangers box.
There was a major let-off for Gerrard’s side in the 15th minute when Allan McGregor, recalled in goal at the expense of Jon McLaughlin in the only change to the starting line-up from Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Hibs, was unable to hold a 20 yard shot from Derrick Kohn. The ball fell to Vangelis Pavlidis but the in-form Greek international striker smashed it against the crossbar from close range with the goal at his mercy.
There was another opportunity for Pavlidis when he was picked out by a cut back from Mike Tresor but this time he lifted his shot well over the top.
Rangers made Willem II pay heavily for their profligacy, taking control of the tie with a burst of two goals in a four-minute spell.
There was little doubt about the penalty award which saw the visitors take the lead in the 22nd minute. Italian referee Maurizio Mariani had no hesitation in pointing to the spot after Kent went down under a clumsy challenge from former Hibs defender Miquel Nelom.
Tavernier had some difficulties from the spot last year, relinquishing the job for a spell, but the Rangers captain emphatically converted this one by smashing the ball down the middle as Willem II goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter dived to his right.
Rangers’ second goal soon afterwards was something of a calamity for Ruitter. A 25 yard shot from Alfredo Morelos should have been dealt with fairly comfortably but Ruitter spilled it, allowing the alert Kent to ram home the loose ball from close range.
The wind was taken out of Willem II’s sails for a spell as Rangers were content to retain possession and consolidate their position. But the visitors’ were grateful to McGregor 10 minutes before half-time when the veteran goalkeeper made a superb save to deny Dries Saddiki from close range after the winger had been set up by Pavlidis.
McGregor repelled Willem II again two minutes into the second half, this time reacting smartly to keep out a low shot from Gorkem Saglam with his feet. There was a sense that the next goal of the match would be pivotal and it was Rangers who grabbed it in the 57th minute to effectively kill off Willem II’s hopes of a recovery.
Kent was involved once again, gathering possession when a Tavernier free-kick was only partially cleared and then delivering a fine cross which Helander rose unchallenged to meet with a precise header which beat Ruitter to his right.
Morelos was searching for a 21st European goal for Rangers, which would equal the all-time club record held by Ally McCoist, but he was to be frustrated on this occasion. The Colombian did play a part in Rangers’ fourth goal, however, his shot deflected wide for a corner which Tavernier floated in from the right. It was met by a towering header from Goldson which gave Ruitter no chance.
Kent, hugely influential yet again, was replaced by Jordan Jones – making his first appearance of the season - in the closing stages while Morelos made way for Cedric Itten as Gerrard gave the Swiss striker another chance to claim his first goal for Rangers. He couldn’t find it but Ianis Hagi should have added to Rangers’ tally in the 89th minute, dragging a shot wide after being set up by good work from Jones.
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