Rangers head to Belgrade as heavy favourites to reach the Europa League quarter-finals after beating Red Star 3-0 at Ibrox.
Goals from James Tavernier, Alfredo Morelos and Leon Balogun earned the Scottish champions a first-leg win on a dramatic night at Ibrox.
Anything other than a heavy defeat in Serbia next Thursday will see now Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side progress to the last eight of the competition after Red Star were rocked by another memorable Rangers performance in the competition.
The Serbian side showed their danger in the opening minutes, when Aleksandr Katai beat Allan McGregor with a well placed shot but the whistle had already gone for offside and the official’s decision was upheld by a VAR review.
Technology was called into play moments later and this time it was at the other end of the pitch. Ryan Kent carried the ball into the box and appeared to have lost control when he went to ground under a challenge. Referee Serdar Gözübüyük was called to watch the incident on the pitchside monitor and he awarded the penalty.
James Tavernier took responsibility for the spot kick as usual and the Rangers captain was coolness personified as he put his penalty into the top corner.
The noise in Ibrox had barely subsided when Red Star thought they were level. McGregor spilled the ball at the feet of Katai and the striker shifted clear before knocking the ball into an empty net, only to see the offside flag was already up. Once again technology showed the initial call was correct.
Rangers didn’t sit on their advantage and forced a corner on the right. The ball was played to Ryan Jack and his flighted cross ended up at the feet of Morelos. The Colombian striker’s prolific strike rate in the competition comes from a ruthlessness when presented with opportunity and he fired his shot into the back of the net. Only fifteen minutes had been played.
The hosts were well on top but Red Star were handed a chance to get back into the game after 23 minutes. Ryan Jack was judged to have fouled Mirko Ivanic in the box.
Katai, Red Star’s top scorer this season, stepped up for the penalty and hit his shot with power low to McGregor’s right but the veteran keeper was equal to it, diving to turn it round the post. The first corner led to an almighty scramble and Rangers eventually cleared the second and caught their breath.
After the breakneck start, both sides continued to go at one another but despite chances for both, and Kent’s claim for a second penalty, they went in at half-time with Rangers leading 2-0.
The second half started with drama of its own as Rangers further extended their lead after six minutes. James Tavernier swung in a corner and Leon Balogun outjumped three defenders to power a header into the back of the net.
Red Star, who had looked a constant threat in the opening exchanges, now seemed short of ideas and were increasingly shaky at the back.
Milan Pavkov and El Fardou Ben were introduced to attempt to turn things in their favour and though the latter had an early half chance denied by McGregor, the visitors found themselves on the back foot more often than not.
Morelos had a shot on target and Ryan Kent then found space to run into as Rangers looked to press home their advantage.
Red Star almost produced something from nothing when Guelor Kanga rattled the bar with a long-range effort with 20 minutes to go but Rangers still looked more likely to add to their scoreline, with Goldson passing up a good chance from a Tavernier free kick.
Red Star then had the hosts scrambling to clear with a dangerous attack before a frere-kick outside the box game them an opportunity to narrow the deficit but was slammed into the defensive wall.
The visitors had the ball in the net in the 84th minute but El Fardou Ben’s strike was struck off for offside.
Another Tavernier free-kick in the final found Goldson free at the back post after goalkeeper Borjan came for the cross and missed it but the central defender again missed an opportunity to put the tie completely out of reach.
Three additional minutes were added on but passed without incident and Rangers now look to next week’s decisive match in Belgrade with a significant advantage and every reason to be confident.
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