Through determination and hard work, Rangers managed to win 1-0 away to Osijek and put themselves in a great position in the Europa League Qualifier 2nd Round. It was the first win in an away European match for Rangers since 2008. They had to be strong defensively for large spells, as the Croatians presented a different challenge than Shkupi.
Rangers made three changes from their last match. Ryan Kent was put straight into the side, with Ejaria also starting his first match. Coulibaly made his debut in midfield, meaning that 7 of the starting 11 were new signings. Osijek also made three changes to their side, some forced by injury, as they lined up in a 4-4-2 to begin with.
The game started at a relatively slow tempo. Rangers were dominant on the ball, Osijek looking to play on the break. Five minutes into the match, Morelos done well to win a free kick. From the set piece, Katic got a glancing header on the ball, but couldn’t direct it goalward.
On nine minutes, the first real chance of the match fell to Osijek. A cleared set piece should have led to a throw for Rangers, but the assistant referee made the wrong decision. The long throw into the box was missed by Katic, bounced over Coulibaly, and Maric hit a dipping volley over the bar.
A shot from Grgic a couple of minutes later was deflected for a corner as Osijek started to settle. They then created a great chance on the 13th minute, as the left back Barisic was found on the run forward. His ball across looked perfect for Maric, but the forward couldn’t hit the target from 10 yards out.
Rangers almost scored on 16 minutes. A great ball over the top by Katic found Kent, who cut inside and beat two players. His shot was deflected, and went just past the post. From the corner, Rangers took the lead and got the all-important away goal. Murphy took a short corner to Kent, then played a perfect pass to Tavernier. His first time cross found Morelos, who glanced the ball off his head to beat the goalkeeper from the edge of the 6 yard box.
Osijek looked to get back into the match, but struggled to break Rangers down. A strong run from Henty on the right was cut back, but the shot easily saved by McGregor. On 28 minutes, a weak clearance from Flanagan fell to Mudrazija at the edge of the box. His shot wasn’t the strongest, and McGregor saved to his left comfortably.
Rangers were getting into decent positions, but the final ball was letting them down. Morelos worked very hard to win free kicks and hold the ball up. Kent was always probing, but his touch was often loose. Ejaria seemed to slow the play down at times when the ball needed moved quicker. Overall, though, the team was solid, and limiting any threat from Osijek.
On the 39th minute, this was summed up by a break from Rangers which they never made the most of. Murphy got the ball facing the defence, and both Morelos and Kent were making good runs. Murphy tried to beat his man, though, and couldn’t get round him to get a shot in.
Osijek started the second half by replacing Sorsa with Bockaj. They came out with real intent, creating a number of chances in the first 5 minutes. A ball across fell to Bockaj, who hit a shot across goal that had to be cleared by Tavernier at the back post. From a corner, Henty headed wide at the near post. Some scrambling in the box on 49 minutes meant that McGregor had to punch over a couple of players, and Maric fouled him. It was a moment of respite for Rangers under a lot of pressure. The team couldn’t get on the ball, so were having to defend deep.
A number of corners and crosses were defended by Rangers, despite some scares. It took until the 57th minute for Rangers to get some possession, and it led to a nice move where Murphy won a free kick. Osijek managed to clear, but it gave Rangers a foundation to move higher up the pitch. Just on the hour mark, Morelos done brilliantly in the corner to beat the defender, and played a great ball across. Coulibaly was running in, but got just a little ahead of the ball and couldn’t control it.
A very heavy challenge on Jack broke the play up just a minute later. The midfielder looked in a lot of pain, but was able to get back onto the park. Just before he did, a loose touch from Tavernier fell to Maric, and his left foot shot was well saved by McGregor. On 66 minutes, a long corner fell to Bockaj, but he pulled his shot wide.
Rangers made a change at that point, replacing Murphy with Windass. Rangers were managing the game well, and defensively sound. On 81 minutes, Windass was unlucky not to find Morelos with a ball from out wide. Coulibaly won a free kick which Tavernier played to the back post. Goldson and Morelos almost got in each others way, and it went out for a goal kick.
Osijek created some half chances in the remaining minutes, but Rangers saw out the game to get a vital win.
The game was a tricky one for Rangers. The weather was very warm, and Osijek certainly offered a threat in the second half. The spine of the team played well, though, and everyone defended strongly. You only need to look at the record of Scottish sides in general away from home in Europe to see how good a result this was.
Foderingham, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, Jack, Coulibaly, Ejaria (McCrorie, 78), Murphy (Windass, 68), Kent, Morelos (Middleton.90+4′).
SUBS NOT USED: Alnwick, Halliday, Docherty, Candeias.
Malenica, Loncar, Barisic, Mioc (Lyopa, 62), Sorsa (Bockaj, 45), Mudrazija, Skoric, Pusic (Hajradinovic, 80), Grgic, Maric, Henty.
SUBS NOT USED: Santini, Tomelin, Radeljic, Pilj.