Win over Galatasaray can land Rangers a potential £10 million Uefa jackpot
Goals from Scott Arfield and James Tavernier take Ibrox side into Europa Leageu group stage
Steven Gerrard’s remarkable restoration of Rangers as credible competitors on the European stage reached another landmark moment with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Galatasaray.
Goals from Scott Arfield and James Tavernier saw Gerrard’s side into the Europa League group stage for a third consecutive season, although there was a nervy end to the play-off round tie for the Ibrox club after Marcao pulled one back for the visitors in the closing minutes.
It is a result which not only enhances Rangers’ prestige but also significantly boosts their finances with the potential of up to £10 million in Uefa income.
But this was a fixture which perhaps more than any other so far this season brought home just how much the absence of supporters diminishes the occasion.
Ibrox would have been in a ferment on a night when so much was at stake with heavyweight opponents of real European pedigree in town.
Despite being without their supporters to urge them on, however, Rangers made a positive start which suggested Gerrard had succeeded in impressing upon them the need to find their own levels of motivation.
Moving the ball swiftly and accurately, they put Galatasaray under some early pressure. There were claims for a penalty kick in the third minute after clever and aggressive play from Ianis Hagi and Alfredo Morelos forced a corner which Borna Barisic swung over from the left.
Connor Goldson met it with a downward header and the ball appeared to bounce up against an arm of Galatasaray captain Martin Linnes. But the Norwegian international defender had his arms close by his side and Latvian referee Andris Treimanis was unmoved.
Arfield, maintaining his highly impressive recent form, sparked Rangers’ next attack by setting Tavernier scampering down the right. Arfield made a surging run into the penalty area but was narrowly unable to get on the end of Tavernier’s low ball across the face of the six yard box.
Another well delivered corner from Barisic then presented Goldson with another headed opportunity. It may have been dealt with by goalkeeper Fatih Ozturk but towering defender Christian Luyindama wasn’t taking any chances as he headed it over his own crossbar.
But any sense that Rangers were going to be able to dominate the contest quickly proved illusory. Galatasaray soon began to produce some slick work of their own which stretched and turned the home defence.
Ryan Babel, Gerrard’s former Liverpool team-mate, provided the visitors’ first real indication of menace with a fine cross from the left which Sofiane Feghouli looked certain to convert at the back post. But the ball went wide for a goal kick, although Feghouli was adamant the final touch belonged to Barisic.
A mix-up between Goldson and Arfield then allowed the pacy Emre Kilinc to break free on the left. He found Feghouli with a cutback and this time the Algerian winger could reproach no-one but himself as he blazed a shot wildy and wastefully off target.
Goldson had to make a well-timed tackle to prevent Radamel Falcao from having a clear sight of goal as the veteran Colombian striker gradually began to make his presence felt.
Rangers were now finding it much harder to impose themselves as an attacking force, although Morelos who should have done better than give up possession tamely just outside the Galatasaray penalty area after a neat exchange of passes with Ryan Kent.
Galatasaray had clearly done their homework on Kent, doubling up at times to restrict his options, although Omar Elabdellaoui picked up the first booking of the night when he cynically pulled the Rangers winger back after a loose clearance from Ozturk had fallen at his feet.
Rangers survived a penalty appeal against them when a cross from Feghouli struck Arfield and the referee again waved aside the noisy protests.
It had developed into a tense affair, each team having earned the other’s respect and both probably content to hear the half-time whistle and have the opportunity to reset.
Rangers carved out their best chance so far less than a minute after the restart when Kent broke free of his shackles with a darting run down the left. His cross picked out Morelos just outside the six yard box but the striker couldn’t get enough power on his header which Ozturk saved comfortably to his left.
Filip Helander had to make a crucial interception to prevent Feghouli getting on the end of a piercing through ball from the impressive Younes Belhanda in the 50th minute. It proved a pivotal contribution as Rangers made the breakthrough two minutes later.
Gerrard’s side have produced several eye-catching goals this season and this was another. Tavernier’s pass inside the Hagi was cushioned into the path of Arfield by the Romanian playmaker, with a run off the ball by Morelos also helping to open up the Galatasaray defence. Arfield finished the move in style with a right foot shot off the outside of his boot beyond Ozturk.
Rangers seized the initiative and doubled their lead in the 59th minute. Barisic’s cross from the left took a nick off Elabdellaoui, the ball looping to the back post where Tavernier won the aerial battle with Linnes to head home his seventh goal in as many games.
It was a tall order for the visitors now, although they looked unfortunate to be denied a penalty six minutes later when Belhanda went down under a clumsy challenge from Arfield.
Gerrard sent on the fit again Ryan Jack for Hagi in a bid to shore his team up for the final stages. But Galatasaray pulled one back in the 87th minute, Marcao heading home a corner from substitute Omer Bayram, leaving Rangers to sweat it out before their celebrations could start.
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