Tuesday 23 October 2018

Rangers squeeze into third Europa League qualifying round after nervy night at Ibrox

Rangers 1 Osijek 1 (Rangers win 2-1 on aggregate)

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard at the final whistle following the UEFA Europa League, Second Qualifying Round, Second Leg match at Ibrox, Glasgow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo, Picture date: Thursday August 2, 2018. See PA story SOCCER Rangers. Photo credit should read: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard at the final whistle following the UEFA Europa League, Second Qualifying Round, Second Leg match at Ibrox, Glasgow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo, Picture date: Thursday August 2, 2018. See PA story SOCCER Rangers. Photo credit should read: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire.

Andy Newport

Nikola Katic helped kill off Croatian compatriots Osijek as his second-half goal was enough to see Rangers through with a 1-1 Europa League draw at Ibrox.

The centre-half headed home from close range eight minutes into the second half as the Light Blues extended the lead given to them by Alfredo Morelos' first-leg strike.

Borna Barisic became the first player to net against Steven Gerrard's Gers with his last minute strike, but the hosts clung on for a 2-1 aggregate win to set up a meeting with Slovenians Maribor in the third qualifying round.

With only a slender lead from last week's clash at the City Garden Stadium, there was always bound to be an anxious air round Ibrox.

Lassana Coulibaly should have settled the nerves four minutes in, but blazed over from close range after being picked out from Ryan Kent's corner.

Osijek's pressing early on forced Gers deep, but it was the hosts who almost came close to landing a sucker punch as Ryan Jack sent Morelos scampering in behind.

The angle was against the Colombian, though, as Osijek goalkeeper Marko Malenica gathered his low strike, doing the same when Daniel Candeias pulled the trigger from the edge of the box.

It was tense, competitive stuff. The Light Blues faithful held their collective breath after 18 minutes when Ovie Ejaria tried to be too clever on halfway. His attempted flick was picked off and Osijek flooded forward.

It took a brave block from Allan McGregor to deny Robert Mudrazija, while the keeper had to bail out Gers again seven minutes before the break as his defence went to sleep, first pulling off an acrobatic stop to deny Ezekiel Henty before leaping up to parry Petar Bockaj's follow-up.

But having survived those scares, Rangers grew in belief.

Only a last-gasp lunge by Alex Grgic early in the second period stopped Kent delivering a devastating blow as he connected with Coulibaly's ball to the back post.

But that only delayed the inevitable and from the resulting corner Gers struck. Malencia missed his attempted punched from Kent's delivery, Morelos nodded the ball back into the danger area and Katic got the decisive touch with his head to put daylight between the sides.

Some more composure might have seen them put the tie to bed completely, but Kent slashed at fresh air while Coulibaly almost hit the corner flag as two decent openings came and went in embarrassing fashion.

Morelos let his frustration show when Kent's hesitation in releasing his pass cost the striker the chance of a run-in on goal.

Ejaria hardly did him any favours moments later as his over-hit ball in behind left Morelos with only the side-netting to aim at.

The tension rose in the final minute when Barisic fired a deflected shot past McGregor to become the first player to net against Gerrard's Gers, but the hosts held on to progress.

Press Association

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