Rangers began their Europa League campaign in Gibraltar for a second season in a row, this time a one-off tie against Lincoln Red Imps at the Victoria Stadium. The kind of game where a handsome win is the minimum that is expected, and anything less would be seen as a disappointment, and heaven forbid the idea of not winning in the 90 minutes. Fortunately, we (unlike other Glasgow sides) don’t have an issue playing at The Rock as we put 5 past the plucky Imps side to progress to play Willem II in the third qualifying round. Rangers fielded some lesser seen faces as well as players returning from injury lay-offs, but it required goals from two ever-presents to set the ball rolling, with second half goals from natural finishers making the score look far more acceptable.
The continued frustration for fans who would be travelling to watch the game was heightened with the poor feed from Premier Sports, although thankfully the RTV feed was far more professional in making sure all fans could witness the action. I certainly hope that Rangers TV can continue to show as many of our games as possible, as they are far more trustworthy in both their output as well as the punditry.
Very difficult to read a great deal into a performance in a game such as this, but here are your player ratings from Thursday evening.
Allan McGregor – 6.9 (7)
Allan McGregor returned between the sticks after a lengthy period out, and I’m sure the pressure on him to perform would not have been lost on the experienced keeper, given the run of clean sheets his “understudy” has been involved in. You could not have asked for an easier game to return to for him on paper, yet despite that he was needed to make a reflex save in the second half that would have caused many a blush amongst us had he not prevented a Red Imps goal. Despite McLaughlin having aspects of his game that look superior to McGregor’s, ball at feet for instance, but these point-blank saves are a skill that he has always been strong with. Given that he now has that match sharpness back, it will be really interesting to see what Gerrard decides to do with regards to goalkeepers for the next few weeks. My instinct is McLaughlin will continue domestically with McGregor featuring in Europe. Although I could be completely wrong.
James Tavernier – 6.9 (7)
3 goals in 3 games for our captain, this one an excellent free kick which got the scoring underway. Wasn’t really involved in much defending (attacks on our goal were rare let’s be honest) and only featured for the first half, but his contribution to the game was very important. This was his first free kick goal for a while and it should not be forgotten that it is something he is very adept at. Although I am beyond certain that this is not something Gerrard would look to do more frequently, I would still urge caution against playing him as a right attacking midfielder regularly, he is very much capable of doing his best work from right back.
Connor Goldson – 7.4 (7)
Goal number two of the game came right on the stroke of half time and it was a headed finish from Goldson which put any level of stress on the game to bed at a perfect time. It was interesting to note that the Red Imps players really didn’t seem to enjoy their time against Goldson at the back, and Goldson was more than happy to talk the talk, right before walking the walk with the second goal. Was perhaps fortunate (actually, there’s no perhaps about it) not to have conceded a penalty with a shoulder barge that we have all seen been given, but yet again there was plenty about this game that he will be very happy about.
George Edmundson – 6.2 (6)
I’m quite interested in the mindset of Edmundson at the moment. Having looked like the favoured choice during the second half of last season with Helander absent to partner Goldson, it now feels like he is 5th choice (when Katic is fit). That cannot be easy, so it made absolute sense to see him come into the side for this tie. A clean sheet is always a nice thing for a centre back to contribute to, however it was a moment of total loss of concentration from him that almost cost us a goal. He ducked to allow the ball over his head despite it being around chest height which panicked the rest of the defence. Thankfully nothing came of it, but it is a sign that there is still some inexperience there that needs to be worked on. That can only come with game time though, so what he can do to get himself that match time with us will be intriguing to discover.
Borna Barisic – 8.0 (8) – Man of the Match
Yet another man of the match award for the Croatian left back. An assist and a plethora of crosses is the least we should be expecting of course, but it’s always fun to watch him play and, as much as we should take the opponent into account in this case, it was exactly what I was hoping for him following a tougher match for him against Dundee United. It was a professional job from a top pro, so as long as he can replicate that professional level against Hibs, we can feel assured that it was merely the slightest of wobbles on Saturday.
Scott Arfield – 6.3 (6)
From a supreme sub performance to a stroll in the middle of the park. There was not much of a midfield battle to really win for the team, although I am sure that Arf’s inclusion in the starting 11 in that position would have been with the idea of him driving forward and being another goal threat. I don’t think we can really say he provided that to be honest, he perhaps believed it best to sit back a bit and offer security. If that was his intention, fair enough, but I think it was a shame he did not feel he could be braver.
Glen Kamara – 6.5 (6)
Goodness, can you imagine the meltdown if Jack was fit and he played with Kamara here!? He was very impressive at the weekend and earned a start of course, and in an interesting way I wonder if he would have ranked higher had Arfield actually pushed further up to allow him to be the sole protector. Perhaps then we would have noticed more of his value in a game like this, which otherwise felt like another body on the park. Is in the box for the third goal but I’m not sure his contribution to that is necessarily vital (although further viewing might prove otherwise).
Kemar Roofe – 6.0 (6)
Was unable to complete the first half due to a calf injury and the reaction to this was very telling about how much the fans have taken to him as an important part of our attack. He would sneak into the box a couple of time here and nearly grab a goal. His ejection was definitely a precautionary move and you could see that at the time, he will be absolutely fine in no time.
Greg Stewart – 6.0 (6)
It maybe feels quite daft to say this for a game of this level, but there was a bit of pressure on Stewart to show his worth in this match. There are a lot of players we can play in the attacking roles now and I think we are now beyond the point of pointing to him and calling him a “specialist” for these kinds of matches. He should have looked a lot more of a goal threat than he ultimately was, which might seem like a harsh statement given he was unlucky not to score thanks to their keepers’ best moment of the match, and a vital knock back for the third goal. Yet he continues to look slow in comparison to those around him. Until we see him do something special against an opponent we would expect him to perform well again, he will have this label against him.
Ianis Hagi – 7.0 (7)
The frustration from the opponents toward Hagi was justified, he made their life very hard by winning a lot of fouls in good areas. This was a good piece of work from him and it should not go unnoticed in the context of the match. He continues to be given the tag of someone who needs to produce something better by a section of fans, but this game saw him grab another assist and gave un a good insight into how the majority of our opponents will play against him specifically. He is going to be targeted. Yet if he can still make game by game contributions like that, he will be doing his job at the very least, and it’s a good job at that. A barn-storming performance will eventually come for him I am sure.
Cedric Itten – 5.6 (6)
Back in the team after an injury lay off and the expectation was he would get his first goal for the club here. Yet he was subbed off without being able to get on the scoresheet, leading a minority to question whether he is going to do the job needed, especially when two substitutes grabbed three goals between them. I don’t think you can dis-count the movement that he makes when going forward. You almost expect him to be constantly in the box ready to pounce on a crossed ball, but the role of the target man has developed to the point where you have to do more than just wait in the penalty area. Players that come from much smaller clubs can sometimes take longer to adapt. Injury has not helped his early Rangers career, therefore the idea of writing him off already is quite frankly ridiculous.
Nathan Patterson – 6.6 (7)
Quite an odd choice bringing the young right back into the game when Roofe went off, but I think the manager made the call on the basis that the game was going to be very comfortable and it would be good to get him first team minutes. He looked assured, no major dramas and the thing I really like about him is his attitude. You can see him listening to Tav, Goldson etc, always taking on the advice they give, and just getting on with his job.
Alfredo Morelos – 7.7 (8)
The idea of him playing in this game after what happened on Saturday seemed so unlikely, and yet here he was and he gets two goals. Anyone who doubts his attitude toward the team needs to think about this for a second. He gets a nasty cut on his leg, yet travels to Gibraltar with the team, starts on the bench and still grabs two goals. You cannot look at that and think he is utterly desperate to leave Rangers, and as time goes on it is more and more likely that his season will be spent at Ibrox. Rangers can only benefit from this. His first goal is good instinct to get into that area and wait for the ball to come across, and his second is a lovely chip over the keeper.
Jermain Defoe – 7.2 (7)
I think the coaching staff had an internal game with themselves. “How long will it take for Jermain to score?” Gary McAllister won as he had between 15-20 minutes as Defoe grabbed his goal 17 minutes into his comeback. As we have always said, give him the ball in the box and he will find the net, and if Morelos was to stay the role of Defoe seems interesting. When would he feature? Would he be happy with a minor role? Part of me would like to see the Alfie-Jermain partnership a bit more, as their camaraderie is something that has always been good to see previously. Oh, and Gary Mac’s prize was the comfy pillow for the flight back to Glasgow.