Rangers secured top spot in the Europa League group stage, and a place in the seeded part of Monday’s draw, after a straightforward 2-0 away win over Lech Poznan. The management team used this game as an opportunity to rest some of the most used players so far this season, albeit for some of the game, and names that have not yet been able to break into the first team had an opportunity to impress the manager on what was as close to a dead rubber as we have had in European competition (in a good way) in many a year. The expectation was that the Polish side would also rest a number of players to focus on their domestic efforts, but some of the bigger names did start for Poznan which added to the test for both “fringe” players and youngsters getting a fantastic experience. The performance that this team put in with all the circumstances in place was excellent. The game was controlled in the middle excellently, the defence was assured, any saves required were made with little fuss, and our attack had a different dimension which paid off well.
Our opening goal was opportunistic but in the same breath an excellent strike both in terms of aesthetics but also narrative. Our second was simply opportunistic, but you have to be in the right place at the right time to capitalise on such things. In the end, a draw would have been enough to secure top spot in our group, which is one we absolutely deserved to win over the six games. We were a matter of minutes away from securing maximum points in the group, so this was no fluke. Whether this gives us an easier draw for the last 32 is something we will just have to find out, it can go either way in all honesty, but it will be exciting to watch all the same. And make no mistake, teams who are unseeded will look at us as a team they would rather avoid.
Here is how you rated our players from this 4th victory from six in this seasons group stage.
Jon McLaughlin – 7.2 (7)
His evening consisted of a couple of good saves from opportunities that Lech had in both halves. Only two of the Polish efforts on goal were on target so his main job was, as tends to be the case for McLaughlin, spreading the ball across the back line. All the same his contribution was important to keep yet another clean sheet, which must be getting into record territory for a “backup” keeper in regard to games played and shutouts made. When we have a game that the thinking is “there is an opportunity to rest a few players”, then Jon must be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Nathan Patterson – 6.7 (7)
What a fantastic opportunity for young Patterson, and one that he absolutely deserves for the effort he puts in at Auchenhowie to improve himself and mould himself off the other defenders in the side. He is a different kind of player from Tavernier, I cannot see him getting the same output of goals, but he puts in the same amount of effort as the skipper and he never hid during this game, he was always looking for the ball, and for the 65 minutes he was on the field, he did really well. This is now the benchmark for the other youngsters coming through, whether they be new graduates or have been involved in the set up for a number of years now. If you put in the work, if you commit yourself to improving and have the mindset of a Rangers player, you will be given an opportunity. I truly believe Patterson will eventually become a starting right back for us in the future.
Connor Goldson – 7.3 (7)
The Poznan attack had no joy against big Connor, every duel that he was involved in he was successful with, and he did not concede a single foul in the process. Wearing the armband for the majority of the game, he wore it with distinction and was very unlucky not to have a goal of his own when he got his head to a freekick, where the resulting effort crashed off the crossbar and was floating right on the line before it was knocked in. Can that count as an assist? I’m sure Goldson won’t mind too much (especially when he finds out the ball was not looking like crossing the line without the intervention) but it goes to show how crucial he is that in a game we rest a number of players, Goldson is again in from the start.
Leon Balogun – 7.1 (7)
It’s been an extended run in the side for Balogun, whether he expected to start week in week out is something only he will know, but he has contributed to a number of clean sheets so should be commended for that. It is obvious he is a second choice centre back when playing alongside Goldson, and you would imagine that he is not quite doing enough to usurp Helander as the main partner at the back just yet, but when you need to have a more athletic defender in the side depending on who you are up against, it is a great place to be to have that option.
Borna Barisic – 7.7 (8)
Both in defence and attack, Borna was really good here. He made a superb defensive interception when the Poznan attacker looked set to have a free shot in the area, and Barisic did exactly what you want a defender to do in that situation, just boot it away and deal with the corner, which we did. As far as getting forward was concerned, plenty of runs into the box from the left hand side as you would expect, and just before our second he is really unlucky not to get an assist at that point, but then his free kick into the area eventually results in us getting our second goal and we saw the game out comfortably from there. I thought he did really well in this match, a chance to outshine his fellow full back for once.
Joe Aribo – 6.9 (7)
It says so much for our squad depth that we can play a quality player like Joe Aribo in a game that is seen as a chance to play second string personnel. Although his contribution to his 90 minutes was limited to a single blocked shot, the class remains permanent for Joe. He plays best when he is used on the left hand side of the midfield in a game we look to attack. When that is not the case, he adapts his game in such a way that limits the very best of what he can do, but the team benefits from this. Quality can be defined in many ways, that being one of them.
Bongani Zungu – 7.1 (8)
For me, we are looking at the next man to cement his place as our midfield anchor. I was really impressed by his game here, he combines strength and speed which is important for a holding midfielder, and his reading of the game is really good as well. There is nothing flashy about what he does on the ball, he attempts diagonal balls out wide to start attacks, he sits and waits for the time he is needed to battle for the ball and fights for it. His booking was unlucky given he slips on the surface as he stretches for the ball, even thought the referee probably makes the correct decision in that case. He won’t score loads of goals for us, but he will be the guy who just shores up our midfield and frustrates the life out of our opponents.
Glen Kamara – 7.9 (8)
He deserves a tattoo that just says “I strolled this” and every time he plays he can show it to everyone and he will be right. It is so clear that he has finally clicked on to what he needs to do in this team, he is playing like he does for the national side, he was so accurate with his passing, which is so far away from the pointless back and forth in the centre of the field that we endured in the past, even at the start of this season. Not only has his passing improved immeasurably, he loves a good dribble on the ball and more often than not sees us so much further up the park when he releases the ball. That’s what is so good about Kamara, he always helps us progress. Please read the article about him in The Athleticif you can, it gives a great insight on him.
Scott Arfield – 7.2 (7)
How Arfield can be one of the players to play in this game despite all the work he puts in every time he plays is astonishing. I don’t think that is down to a poor decision from the coaching staff, I think it is just a measure of how much energy he has. At least he did not start the game on Sunday which meant he was fresher here, but even so it is a remarkable level of fitness that he exhibits. And he did not hide either. Plenty of passing, plenty of running, and a good solid 90 minutes from our soldier in the centre. How he is managed over the festive period will be interesting, I cannot imagine he will play every game. But at the same time, if he does, it would not massively surprise me either!
Cedric Itten – 8.3 (8) – Man of the Match
Right here is the game that we can turn to and say “this is why he will be a first team player for us in the future”. This was an excellent attacking display, not only in terms of goal threat but the running and work he put in as well. He has found himself playing on the right in recent appearances, but he was given the opportunity to play in the centre this time, a position he clearly prefers, and the goal he scores was real quality. He takes advantage of the loose ball that Poznan give away, runs in and, despite commentators suggesting this was a player who was lacking in confidence blah blah blah, smashes the ball into the roof of the net with the gusto of a man who knows he can make a difference. This was not the first chance he had either, other plays that nearly led to goals just before this fine strike, and from there the chest on the Swiss Target Man looked so much bigger, he was brimming. He even played a brilliant long ball up to Hagi for a chance that went just wide, but look at how deep he was and remember that he is typically a number 9 player. But that is why we have signed him, because he is the type of striker who will suit this style of play. You may be able to tell that I am excited by the future we have with him at the heart of the attack, whenever that may be.
Ianis Hagi – 7.0 (7)
That chance that I mentioned for Hagi was so close to going in but for a deflection from the defender. We would have been over the moon to see the young star get that goal as this was the kind of game made for him to get back to form. Thankfully he did get his goal, albeit the easiest goal he will ever score, but you have to be in the right place to take that chance so it should not be taken away from him. Interestingly, unlike the rating from our fanbase, Hagi was seen as one of the best players on the field. I wonder whether he expect him to play like his name suggests he should, and whether that is possible in the set up we play. We don’t play a traditional number 10, and Hagi has to work harder than he perhaps has needed to in previous teams, but you cannot argue with his goal involvement per minutes played, he still contributes even when he feels ever so slightly like a square peg trying to go into a round hole.
James Tavernier – 6.1 (6)
I can imagine he was brought into the game because he was constantly asking the manager to let him on! I say that in jest because I am certain this was a plan all along to let young Patterson have just the hours worth of game time. I was so chuffed with the desire he put in for that half hour, annoyed at himself for not scoring a header, keeping that level of expectancy for himself which rubs off on the team. That is what a captain does.
Brandon Barker – 5.2 (5)
He still hasn’t shaved his head which I think will help improve his performances significantly. Not enough time for him to make any impact, which goes for the rest of the subs who came in.
Ryan Kent – 5.5 (5)
I really hope that he starts on Sunday and absolutely destroys Dundee United. That is all I want to say about Kent.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.2 (5)
And the same would go for Morelos. It would hurt their fans more than anything if Alfie was to grab a hat trick. That would be rather special.
Calvin Bassey – 5.2 (5)
The versatility of Bassey helps our team in that he can be subbed on for either a left back or centre back, that is a useful option over the season.