It feels like a monumental turning point in Rangers’ fortunes. The 1-1 draw vs Ufa in Russia felt more than a bog-standard qualification. After what the club and the fans have been through in the last six years, it definitely feels like Rangers are back. I am not going to lie – it feels pretty good.
However, I am going to go over some of the main talking points that emerged from the 90 minutes in the Neftyanik Stadium:
McGregor, Katic and Goldson were back to their usual level of performance
After Sunday’s poor display at Motherwell, I wondered what kind of reaction we would get from Nikola Katic, Connor Goldson and Allan McGregor – the answer: the reaction of proper Rangers players. A few times Rangers got caught with the ball over the top in between Katic and Flanagan but on the whole, they defended magnificently. Gerrard spoke about warriors and that’s exactly what they were. Even more so in the second half, Goldson won most things in the air and both of them made block after block. It wasn’t pretty to watch but at the same time, it was nice to be able to appreciate the art of defending with a proper backs-to-the-wall defensive display; playing in a back four for the majority of the game will have helped their confidence as well.
Allan McGregor: I don’t think there is much to be said about him that hasn’t already been said. He makes big saves at big moments during the game. We saw it last week, just after Goldson gave Rangers the lead, he made a massive save to keep it at 1-1. Yet again, he pulled off a superb stop to deny Sly Igboun’s header in the last 10 minutes of the tie. Furthermore, the way he used his experience to kill Ufa’s momentum at times was invaluable. He was an absolute warrior between the sticks.
The referee and his team of officials were embarrassingly bad
Tobias Stieler and his team officials didn’t have the best of nights. In fact, their collective performance was a shambles, especially with being from a top nation such as Germany; you expect better. It wasn’t even the decisions they gave against Rangers that were terrible it was their whole card-happy display.
The Alfredo Morelos incident. Let’s have a look at that. Morelos is 100% silly for getting involved. His side had just conceded, he gets a free-kick given against him and starts mouthing. It was daft and there was no need for it, he should have walked away and got on with it. However, Mr Stieler should have done the same. For a man who is supposed to be the cool head, he should have walked away from the incident too. Instead, he like Morelos lost his cool and quickly booked Morelos with this strange angry look on his face – I’ve not seen anything like it before. Morelos should absolutely not get involved, but it has to be said that both individuals are guilty in this instance of acting in an immature manner where general behaviour was concerned.
The Flanagan sending off. Well, it was an absolute disgrace. Flanagan went up for an honest challenge, caught the Ufa player and Stieler waited then showed him a second yellow.
In the interest of fairness, he disallowed Ufa’s goal deep into the four minutes of injury time, which looked perfectly legal. A display to remember for all the wrong reasons.
Ovie Ejaria and Ryan Jack were outstanding
On a night where it was mostly all hands on deck. Ovie Ejaria and Ryan Jack deserve immense credit. Ejaria was superb and got the all-important goal, with his lovely strike. Additionally, he took a lot of pressure off when he sent Ryan Kent away on the counter-attack a couple times when Rangers were under the cosh.
Jack had another impressive display on both sides of the ball. He was vital when Rangers were cruising it before the red card: keeping it simple and helped break up Ufa’s attacks.
When Rangers went down to nine, both ran their socks off and helped the team get up the pitch. They were excellent and both are showing that they are well capable of holding down starting spots in this side.
The nine men were heroic
From the 66th minute when the ref showed Flanagan the second yellow, the heart was racing but the big white wall stood firm. Gerrard’s sub – Halliday for Arfield– worked wonderfully. Halliday went into the defence with Goldson and Katic and every single player threw their body in front of shots, kept their concentration and saw the job out. It was a wonderful achievement and the praise coming their way for such a display is merited.