Rangers were denied a winning start to the season by a late Aberdeen equaliser in a game of many incidents. Despite playing the vast majority of the match with only 10 men, Rangers should have taken all three points. There was a lot of positives for the fans and management team to take from the performance. Sadly, those will be overshadowed by the flashpoints and poor refereeing which dominated the reactions.
Rangers started the match with 3 changes from the Osijek second leg. Ejaria was replaced by Arfield in midfield. Out wide, both Candeias and Kent dropped to the bench, with Windass and Murphy starting in their place. Aberdeen were forced into a couple of changes themselves from their match against Burnley. Shay Logan’s suspension meant that Dominic Ball played at right back. Tommie Hoban was injured and replaced by Stephen Gleeson in midfield.
Rangers created a great chance to take the lead only a few minutes into the match. Jamie Murphy was played through by a long ball and got in behind the Aberdeen defence. Joe Lewis done well to come out and block the shot, although Murphy will be disappointed his contact wasn’t as firm as he’d have liked. From the rebound, a pass by Jack found Arfield in space, but his shot didn’t have enough on it and was easily saved by Lewis.
In the 11th minute, the major talking point of the match occurred. Play was halted by the referee as he clearly received a message about an off-the-ball incident. Alfredo Morelos was red carded, and replays showed that he had retaliated to being barged by McKenna. The decision could be deemed as a little harsh, but it left Rangers with a man short for over 80 minutes of football.
From there, Rangers took some time to regroup. They had been clearly the better side, but concentrated on defending for 5 or 10 minutes before changing the shape. Murphy and Windass played more centrally, attempting to cover 3 positions between 2 players.
Aberdeen could only create half-chances from set pieces, and Rangers managed to play their way back into the match. On the half hour mark, they got their reward. A great run by Flanagan resulted in a square ball to Arfield. His shot was blocked, but the rebound looked set to be put in by Josh Windass. He was dragged back by Ball, resulting in a penalty. There was no card for Ball, another decision of note, and an injury to McKenna meant that Tavernier had to wait for a spell before taking the spot kick. He showed no sign of nerves as he placed the ball hard to Lewis’ right, and even the touch from the goalkeeper couldn’t stop the ball from hitting the net.
Rangers deserved their lead, and played out the half looking fairly comfortable. The only chance of note for Aberdeen was an overhit cross which McGregor had to tip out for a corner. From that set piece, Devlin headed the ball over under a little pressure.
Rangers started the brighter of the sides in terms of chances in the second half as well. Aberdeen were getting more of the ball, but couldn’t threaten. Rangers were resolute in defence and dangerous on the break. Coulibaly was sent clear on the halfway line on the 56th minute. His strong and direct run saw him get a shot away, but it was blocked by a good sliding challenge. Two minutes later, Coulibaly played a good cross for Windass, but his header under pressure went over the bar.
Josh Windass was causing issues for the Aberdeen defence with his pace. On 62 minutes, he should have done better with a great chance. Sent through on the left, he had Murphy making a great run centrally, and Arfield coming up in support. The decision to try and cut inside and hit a shot was the wrong one and easily blocked.
It took until the 69th minute until Aberdeen got a chance of real note. Devlin was found with a corner at the back post, and his header was poor. Over the next 10 minutes, the game got a little scrappy, and a few bookings were picked up. Devlin squared up to Arfield, and both players were booked. Connor Goldson got a yellow card for a rather soft foul. Somehow, though, Stevie May escaped a booking for a late challenge in the air on Ryan Jack. He launched himself into the midfielder, hitting Jack on the back of the head with his hip with the ball nowhere near that high. Given the offences deemed yellow cards before that, it was a strange decision to let that one go.
That head knock ended the game for Ryan Jack, who had been the standout performer on the park. Rangers replaced him with Ovie Ejaria, but it definitely affected the flow of the remaining minutes. Lewis Ferguson missed a good chance with a header on 87 minutes as Rangers struggled to get out of their own half. The defence was dropping deeper, and it resulted in the 93rd minute Aberdeen equaliser.
Coulibaly cleared a ball from deep on the right, but Rangers had no one up front to hit. The ball came back in, and Coulibaly missed the header, and other players were too deep. The ball was played to substitute Bruce Anderson, who got a shot away with his left foot and beat McGregor at the far post. It wasn’t a goal Aberdeen deserved, but one that Rangers will be disappointed to have conceded.
The game played out from there, with only a loose pass by Coulibaly preventing Ejaria being through on goal the only chance Rangers could create.
This was a game where the referee and his team had a poor match. It meant that it was difficult to truly judge either side. Rangers looked better on the ball and created more good chances than Aberdeen, even when down to 10 men. Aberdeen seemed reliant upon long balls and set pieces. The game wasn’t a “normal” one, though. Aberdeen will argue injuries and suspensions affected them as well. What could and should have been an interesting match was somewhat ruined.
Rangers will be disappointed not to have taken all three points. That’s a real indication of just how well the team played after the early red card. There were strong individual performances, and an excellent team spirit through adversity. There’s plenty for Rangers fans to feel positive about from that performance.
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan; Jack (Ejaria, 83), Arfield, Coulibaly; Murphy (Kent, 69), Morelos, Windass.
SUBS: Alnwick, Umar, Halliday, McCrorie, Candeias.
Lewis, Considine, McKenna (Forrester, 30), Devlin, Gleeson (May, 53), Shinnie, Ferguson, Ball, McGinn, Mackay-Steven, Cosgrove (Anderson, 71).
SUBS: Cerny, Wright, Campbell, Harrington.