An outstanding second half display at Ibrox saw Rangers beat Maribor 3-1 in the first leg of the Europa League Third Qualifying Round. Goals from Morelos, Tavernier, and Coulibaly give the team a good lead in the tie before the away leg next week. Maribor were the best side Gerrard’s Rangers side have faced so far. There was no doubt Rangers deserved the win, with a lot of impressive football played throughout.
Rangers recalled Ryan Kent, Ovie Ejaria, and Daniel Candeias to the side from the match against Aberdeen. Maribor started with their preferred 4-4-2, hoping to get chances through Zahovic and Tavares up front.
Maribor looked to start the match by allowing Rangers easy possession and then pouncing on any mistakes. They got a corner in the 2nd minute, which Suler met but put wide at the near post. Only 3 minutes later, Rangers took the lead.
Great pressing by Tavernier and Arfield won the ball just outside the Maribor box. Arfield passed to Kent, who got a right foot shot away. The goalkeeper made a good save, but it fell to Morelos in the 6-yard box and he knocked it in the net. That got the crowd really going, and was the perfect start.
Rangers were playing with aggressive intent. They were winning the ball in advanced areas, but the final ball wasn’t quite coming off. Suler stopped Candeias getting through with a last-ditch tackle on 7 minutes. Tavernier had a couple of crosses which were just too long.
Maribor are an experienced side who have won a number of titles in recent years. They didn’t allow the fast start from Rangers to intimidate them, and a long shot from Badje was saved by McGregor before being cleared by Katic.
From some pressure with set pieces, Rangers won a free kick just outside the box on 17 minutes. Unfortunately, the effort from Tavernier hit the wall and was eventually cleared. 3 minutes later, Jon Flanagan was booked for a challenge on the touchline. That yellow card means he’ll be suspended for the second leg.
Maribor created a great chance on 24 minutes. Some good passing found Derisevic just inside the box, and his low shot was well saved by McGregor. Zahovic looked set to put in the rebound, but Tavernier blocked the shot on the slide, and Rangers eventually cleared.
From a wide free kick on 31 minutes, Maribor missed a great chance. The Rangers defence kept a good line, but Ivkovic broke clear and should have scored with a header. 4 minutes later, a good ball through on the left caught out Flanagan. The cross from the byline looked set to be finished, but Tavernier put in a great block.
Then came a crazy couple of minutes which threatened to derail the start Rangers had made. A slow ball by Handanovic to Suler was easily stolen by Candeias. Inside the box at an angle, he tried to square in Morelos for a tap-in. Unfortunately, the striker was just in front of the ball and the goal was chopped off. A mere minute after that, Maribor equalised. A cross ball to Badje was met on the half volley and brilliantly hit to beat McGregor at the back post. What should have been 2-0 was suddenly 1-1.
Maribor had ended the half a bit stronger. The set back leading to the equaliser could have seen the team feel a bit sorry for themselves. Instead, they came out with real intent and created chances straight away. They won the ball from Maribor quickly, and Kent ran at the defence. His cross was dangerous, and the clearance went out for a corner. That started a period of pressure, with Rangers winning a number of corners. Coulibaly had a shot on the turn well saved.
Rangers got their second goal on 49 minutes. A great ball from Goldson played through Morelos. He turned Ivkovic brilliantly and was dragged down. Tavernier stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way with the penalty. The celebrations from the players were exuberant as Rangers restored their lead.
On 52 minutes, Tavernier and Candeias linked up to give the Portuguese winger some space. His cross was cleared, but Tavernier picked it up and hit a shot from 25 yards which Handanovic saved excellently. Four minutes later, Flanagan got to the byline, and his cut back was played in to Arfield. His shot was deflected away from goal. Like the first half, the goal inspired Rangers to play at a high tempo.
But like the first half, Maribor showed they have quality and experience as they rode out the storm somewhat. Rangers were still dominant, but the defending by the Slovenian side was strong. On 70 minutes, Goldson tried to break through, and beat 3 players on a run. His shot from distance was high and wide, sadly.
Murphy replaced Ejaria after 78 minutes to try and add more energy to the attack. A few minutes in, his first touch almost led to a goal. Rangers won the ball and broke quickly. Candeias played a low cross, and Murphy met it at the same time as the goalkeeper. The ball squirmed clear, but was just behind Kent and eventually cleared. On 84 minutes, Morelos won a free kick from Suler. The ball in from Tavernier was cleared, but Rangers kept the pressure on. Murphy got the ball wide left, clipped in an excellent cross, and Coulibaly knocked it in with his shoulder to make it 3-1.
From there, Rangers managed the match well to ensure Maribor never got another chance. The crowd spent the last 5 minutes of the match in fine voice as the team deserved every bit of praise they received.
Maribor are an experienced side who have been pretty settled for years. They have Champions League experience and are a good team. Rangers blew them away in the second half. Even during the spell where Maribor were stronger, Rangers were creating chances. It was the best 90 minutes so far under Gerrard, and the best most fans can remember in a long time. The team put in an amazing shift for the entire match, with no passengers at all. Players like Coulibaly and Morelos were outstanding, driven on by a support who loved what they were watching. Good football was allied with strong defending and hard work. Every Rangers fan should be excited by that performance and looking forward to what is to come.
It will still require a good performance in the second leg to see out this tie, but Rangers have put themselves into a great position against a team who hadn’t lost to a Scottish side in 7 matches.
McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan; Arfield, Coulibaly, Ejaria (Murphy, 78); Candeias, Kent (McCrorie, 88), Morelos (Umar, 88).
SUBS: Foderingham, Halliday, Kelly, Middleton.
Handanovic, Klinar, Suler, Vrhovec, Pihler, Tavares (Vrsic, 79), Zahovic, Bajde (Mesanovic,, 62), Derisevic, Viler, Ivkovic.
SUBS: Piric, Cretu, Hotic, Mlakar, Uskokovic