Rangers will take a lead into the second leg against FC Ufa after winning 1-0 at Ibrox on Thursday night. The match was a nervous one, with Ufa defending very deep and breaking up the game as often as possible. Rangers weren’t able to find their best performance overall, with short spells of high-tempo pressure not being sustained. By not conceding, they’ve done one major part of what is required. It was clear on the night that the Ibrox side should have scored more goals too.
Rangers started the match with four changes from the Kilmarnock match. McGregor took his place back in goals, with Flanagan replacing the cup-tied Barisic. In midfield, Jack replaced Halliday and Candeias came in for the injured Murphy. On the bench, new signing Lafferty was included, as was Lee Wallace.
FC Ufa had made a number of changes for their league match, so brought most of those players back into the side. The team contained only one change from their draw with Progres, seeing Zasayev start in place of Carp.
Rangers tried to start the match with real intensity. Within two minutes, they had won a free kick on the right-hand side which Tavernier played in. The ball was half cleared and fell to Candeias who shot from the edge of the box. Hitting the ball into the ground, the effort was dipping in and had to be turned over by Ufa goalkeeper Belenov.
Alfredo Morelos had a good chance from a deep cross by Tavernier not long after that, but his header didn’t generate enough power to beat the goalkeeper. FC Ufa were getting everyone behind the ball and offering little in an attacking sense. That led to Rangers struggling to find space in advanced areas. The game was also very stop-start as the referee refused to book players who were fouling constantly to break up the rhythm Rangers were trying to create. One of those fouls on Morelos gave Tavernier a chance with a free kick just outside the box, but his shot was straight at the goalkeeper and easily saved.
On the half hour, Morelos was unlucky with a great chance. He met a Tavernier free kick with a strong header, but it went just over the bar. The in-form striker was finding the match frustrating as he was fouled time and again.
With 5 minutes of the half to go, Rangers got a deserved goal. Unsurprisingly, it came from a set piece. Ryan Kent beat his man on the left and saw a cross deflected for a corner. He whipped in a great ball from the left which Morelos headed towards goal. Belenov saved but didn’t do enough to get the ball clear, which let Goldson finish from close range. The crowd and team celebrated with a sense of relief.
Ufa almost equalised straight after their kick off. Allan McGregor made a great save from Zaseev, who had found space in the area on the Rangers left. The ball came back in and Ufa held it well, with Rangers struggling to get a tackle in. From a deflected pass, Paurevic had a volley on the turn which went narrowly over the bar. Manager Steven Gerrard was raging on the sideline with the team as they didn’t deal with the danger efficiently enough.
Rangers were looking to raise the tempo and create the chances to extend their lead. Ten minutes into the half, Connor Goldson broke forward from defence and tried to link up with Arfield. The midfielder played the ball through looking for the defender’s run, but the numbers in defence crowded for Ufa meant the ball was eventually cleared. Just minutes later, a smart ball by Tavernier allowed Morelos to turn his marker. The Colombian got a left-foot shot off but dragged it wide.
There was a controversial moment when Daniel Candeias was caught by a seemingly late challenge in the box. The crowd shouted for a penalty, and it looked to be a very strong claim. Neither the referee nor his assistant agreed though.
On the 69th minute, Kyle Lafferty was brought on for Daniel Candeias. The crowd, as expected, welcomed the striker back to Ibrox with great excitement. Ryan Kent had been beating players, but the sheer numbers of defenders meant that finding space to run into was difficult. Just after Lafferty was introduced, he cut inside and hit an effort from distance which went over the bar.
Glenn Middleton was brought into the game for Ryan Kent on 77 minutes. He was clearly asked to run at the Ufa right back, and he almost made an immediate impact. The ball broke to him as he ran clear, and he was fouled in the box by the defender. However, the referee strangely pulled the play back for a handball by Lafferty rather than give the penalty. The decision wasn’t made in real time and seemed to be incorrect.
Rangers couldn’t find a clear-cut chance in the remaining minutes, with crosses cleared or just evading players. Ufa ran down the clock, tried to wind up the Rangers players constantly, and go into the second leg with only a one-goal deficit.
In the match preview, I predicted a nervous game which Rangers would win 2-0. It was close to that sort of match, sadly. Teams who use a low block and concentrate solely on defending are always tricky to break down. Rangers needed a little more in terms of attacking tempo, but they did have next to nothing to deal with defensively. Ufa hadn’t lost in their European matches until last night. That means the second leg represents a different challenge for them, a match where they’ll have to come out and play to score at some point. Rangers will hope to take advantage of that in the second leg and are certainly good enough to get an away goal which would kill the tie.
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan; Jack, Ejaria, Arfield; Candeias (Lafferty, 69), Kent (Middleton 77), Morelos.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Wallace, Sadiq, Halliday, McCrorie.
Belenov, Alikin, Jokic, Salatic, Zaseev (Vanek, 86), Zhivoglyadov, Paurevic, Nedelcearu, Igboun, Tabidze, Oblyakov (Carp, 83)
SUBS NOT USED: Sheliya, Sysuev, Tumasyan, Sukhov, Krotov.