Embrace the chaos.
After the end-to-end, toe-to-toe battle with Borussia Dortmund that saw Rangers take the lion’s share of ten goals to win a last-32 tie against the German giant, many might have expected a return to the tight, calculated affairs that often mark knockout European competition.
Instead, the Ibrox crowd saw a breathless and hectic first half-hour that saw Rangers emerge with a healthy lead, followed by 60 minutes where they asserted themselves as the smarter side against a more than capable opposition, and finished up with a lead they would have snatched at had it been offered before kick-off.
James Tavernier fired his side ahead with a terrific top-corner penalty after VAR spotted a foul on Ryan Kent. Alfredo Morelos doubled Rangers’ lead with a volley that added another goal to the Colombian’s impressive haul of European strikes.
After the break, Leon Balogun rose above three opponents to plant an emphatic header into the back of the net and give Red Star a headache on the night and a hugely difficult task a week from now.
And yet, that doesn’t begin to tell the full story of a frenetic night in Govan. It was a game where fine margins added up to create a huge advantage for Rangers.
Red Star had the ball in the back of the net in the third minute when Aleksandr Katai hit a laser-guided effort into the top corner. The striker did it again ten minutes later when Allan McGregor failed to hold the ball and the striker was able to stroke into an empty net. El Faroud Ben put the ball over the line with just five minutes to go.
None of the three counted, with celebrations cut short by an offside flag. Each decision was correct, but none of the players strayed offside by much.
Red Star’s best chance came in the 24th minute when Katai stepped up to save a penalty, only to see the 40-year-old Rangers goalkeeper dive to his right to tip the ball wide in a manner you don’t often see from 40-year-old goalkeepers.
McGregor was beaten in the second half when Guelor Kanga unleashed a shot from 30 yards out, but it smacked off the bar.
None of which is to say that Rangers were lucky, just that Red Star will travel home knowing they had their chances.
Rangers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst knew it too, remarking after the match that “this tie isn’t over yet” and “it’s only half way”.
The Dutchman knows his side are in a strong position, though, and could have had more to show from their efforts themselves, a trio of Connor Goldson chances from Tavernier deliveries being foremost in the mind.
As he prepares for the decisive leg in Belgrade next week, he’ll reflect on a series of impressive performance, not just from his goalscorers and goalkeeper, but from the likes of Calvin Bassey and Ryan Kent, or from Ryan Jack, who seems to raise the level of everyone around him in difficult games.
The manager will also remind his players of the benefits of flexibility, having seen John Lundstram step into the back line to change the side’s shape and help them nullify Red Star’s threat.
Thursday’s scoreline, and the performances that underpinned it, will have Van Bronckhorst and the Ibrox faithful confident that they can finish the job and take a place in the quarter-final draw.
With Red Star chasing the tie, it’s unlikely to be calm or staid affair at the Rajko Mitic Stadium, but after the drama against Dortmund and the excitement of Ibrox in the first leg, Rangers may be starting to feel that the high-octane pace of recent games is just fuel to their European fire.
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