Alfredo Morelos returned to action after a five-month absence to score the clinching goal in Rangers’ 2-0 cinch Premiership win over Kilmarnock at Ibrox.
The Light Blues lost 2-0 away to Union Saint-Gilloise in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier on Tuesday night and a laboured and goalless first half was not the response expected.
Antonio Colak, the Croatia striker signed from Greek side PAOK, lifted the Light Blue spirits when he fired in his first Gers goal in the 51st minute and there was more good news for the Gers faithful when Colombia striker Morelos, out since March due to a thigh injury, came off the bench after the hour mark before sealing the win in the 88th minute with a close-range finish.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side will try to rescue their Champions League hopes on Tuesday night but they will have to markedly improve – although the long-awaited return of the popular Morelos will offer hope.
Following the dismal display in midweek which seemed to take Van Bronckhorst aback, it was inevitable that there would be changes for the first home league game of the season.
Turkey left-back Ridvan Yilmaz made his first start and Steven Davis, Tom Lawrence and Scott Wright came in with Morelos on the bench.
Killie’s on-loan defender Lewis Mayo was unable to play against his parent club but Jeriel Dorsett, the 20-year-old defender who signed on loan from Reading on Friday, made his debut with Liam Donnelly and Fraser Murray also starting.
Killie soon found themselves under pressure and in the third minute keeper Sam Walker and defender Ash Taylor blocked a shot from Malik Tillman, who was the best player on show in the first half.
Taylor was then booked for a foul on Tillman at the edge of the box but Gers skipper James Tavernier curled the free-kick over the bar.
A deflected drive by Wright was palmed away by Walker and in the 26th minute Lawrence hit the bar with a speculative lobbed shot from distance.
Walker saved a long-distance effort from Wright just before the break but it was a far from convincing first-half performance by Rangers.
Killie midfielder Rory McKenzie flicked a cross from Murray over the bar soon after the restart but then found themselves behind when Colak exchanged passes with Lawrence before drilling a low drive past the diving Walker.
The Ibrox crowd relaxed, but just a little.
There was another huge cheer in the 62nd minute when Van Bronckhorst brought on Morelos, along with Borna Barisic and Rabbi Matondo, for Yilmaz, Wright and Colak.
Rangers kept going with the fans willing Morelos to get on the scoresheet and he shot wide in the 69th minute from an angle before being thwarted in the box twice by tackles.
However, with two minutes remaining the Colombian was on hand to scoop the ball in the net from two yards after being set up by Matondo at the second attempt, and he once again heard familiar roars of approval from the Rangers fans.