For so long we had built in our minds how Thursday night was going to play out. Initially when the draw was made there was a real positivity that, of all the teams we could have drawn, that this was a tie that was definitely winnable. As the weeks went on, and SC Braga changed their coaching staff and looked significantly better for it, the tie looked ever more ominous. A team who, since appointing Ruben Amorim, have defeated the big three in Portugal, won their league cup and sold a player to Barcelona for 31 million Euro’s, but he would still feature in this game of course. In the first half we could all absolutely see why they have been doing so well. They were quick on the break, a threat from set pieces and had the combination of skill and grit on their side. We looked set for a real hiding.
But something clicked. We found a rhythm and our consistent closing down paid off as Braga quickly became wary of our own threats. A great cut inside shot to put pride back in the shirt, an amazing solo run and a deflected free kick led to one of the most memorable, and unlikely, wins in Europe for Rangers in a very long time. A win that makes our task, though very difficult, a simple one. Just don’t lose.
Here are the ratings that the Heart and Hand community have put together for this famous victory. The numbers in brackets are the ratings that I submitted, just to compare my personal view with what others saw.
Allan McGregor – 7.4 (7)
To concede twice would make you think that a goalkeeper has been poor but this is far from true when it comes to Allan McGregor here, as it could have been a hell of a lot worse had it not been for some important interventions. The two goals Braga score, which could well prove pivotal in the overall tie, are excellent goals. A long range strike and an amazing build up goal, all you can really do is stand back and admire some of the play that the Portuguese side produced. But the likes of Paulinho and Barca-bound Trincao had great chances to score too, but McGregor was there to make sure that we were still in a game, in the hope that his teammates would find a way to retrieve the game. Good news Allan, they did!
James Tavernier – 6.3 (6)
This was a really tough night for the full backs. Braga liked to get the ball into wide positions and look to find crosses in, and the way that they played it was a lot of two on one situations for our wide defenders to face. Tav didn’t get overly involved in anything positive offensively, and I think that he will be apprehensive about coming up against the likes of Abel Ruiz and Nuno Sequera on Wednesday. He will simply have to do the best he can.
Connor Goldson – 6.3 (7)
Interestingly I thought that Connor Goldson was one of the most improved performers once we found our way in the game. Don’t get me wrong, he was having a really tough time against Paulinho in the first half but he looked stronger and more confident once Braga tired. He looked mighty nervous when he first realised the task at hand mind you, it would be so easy to give away a penalty with the quick feet of Trincao, but it’s whether he can keep his chest high in Braga or not as to whether he can stake a claim to belong at this kind of level.
Nikola Katic – 6.2 (7)
I rated both central defenders the same but I’m still a wee bit surprised that Katic was ranked a little bit less overall than Goldson. I thought in the first half he was one of the only players who was at least showing something positive, making forward runs and winning duels. What has maybe done him here is the continual issue of when to attack the ball and when to hold the line, something he has yet to master, and something that could have possibly prevented the second goal being conceded, but he also improved his defensive game post Hagi’s first.
Borna Barisic – 5.7 (6)
If Tav thought he had it bad, Borna had it way tougher dealing with Trincao and Galeno, speed and style at it’s most obvious. It’s a tough one for Barisic. Braga would play the quick diagonal ball from left to right and the player would find himself in loads of space, but the way we approached the game with the consistent press meant that we had to move as a unit, and the issue you would have with the Croat staying wide to cover the runs from Galeno would have resulted in a lot of space for Trincao to run into. Borna would pretty much pick the lesser of two evils in that scenario. A tricky game which ended early for him with an injury that you can only hope won’t keep him out for too long.
Scott Arfield – 7.0 (7)
We again saw the ideal desire from Arfield, the best midfield performer without doubt. I personally thought he was too weak in the defensive sense, it looked way too easy for the likes of Fransergio to shove Arfield away, but he never stopped and that extra dimension in attack that I mentioned before was not utilised, not for the lack of Scott making the appropriate runs though. It’s not bad at all from Arf, if he is playing a lesser opponent, he looks a lot better, but he definitely did his job.
Steven Davis – 5.1 (6)
I’d say this is a bit harsh. Not for the first 60, absolutely fair in that case, but I thought toward the end we started to see the sharpness return to how Davis used the ball and the areas of the field that he would cover, and how he went about that. But what clearly stands out is the fact he was a liability in the first half. When he is playing badly, he feels like an empty shirt because you aren’t sure what it is he is offering at all. He often finds himself at the two extremes of the scale, either really great or really bad. About time we get the good Davis back. A message to the management team, “make Davis great again!”
Glen Kamara – 3.0 (5)
Oh dear oh dear oh dear. First appearance in a good few games but in no way has he endeared himself with the supporters following a woeful 50 minutes. If you are really searching for something good to say about his night, he was putting himself in the right defensive positions to at least have the ball before giving it away and very nearly costing us a third goal. A 50 grand signing from Dundee maybe isn’t cut out for the knockout stages of European competition. Especially when he plays like that.
Ianis Hagi – 9.0 (9) – Man of the Match
I love him. It feels like he has been here for so much longer than he has. He is a boy who embraces the big occasions, and he loves being at the centre of it. He drags the team out of the hole we found ourselves in single handed, his cut inside and shot was born out of frustration but it was harnessed in the right way. He wanted the crowd to make even more noise at that point, the young lad already knows how important the Ibrox crowd is on nights like this. He lays the ball off to Aribo to set up the equaliser, and his free kick, which he of course deliberately hit off the wall so that it would deviate the way it did, will find itself in top 10 goals for many a fan for years to come, for the emotion that it produced, the visceral reaction that Hagi himself shared in his celebrations. He has been in Glasgow for less than a month, but he already gets it. “Ibrox baby, it’s just different!” Sign him permanently, do it now.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.9 (6)
I really thought that this was going to be the game that he was going to find his feet again. He again looked heavier though, frustrated and, despite some decent set ups which just didn’t fall kindly enough to Kent and a miraculous goal mouth scramble that he could not convert, it was a poor night given what we would expect from Buff. That goal line chance I mentioned almost summed everything up for both the team and Alfie at that point. Is it fair for us to expect that he should be at least playing better at this point, or can that only happen once he has banged a few goals in? He won’t be available for Portugal due to a silly yellow (harsh decision but still, don’t give the ref the option) and he really is terrible at diving and needs to stop trying it.
Ryan Kent – 4.5 (5)
In much the same way as Morelos, a lot of us thought that Kent would find his feet in this kind of game and all would be right with the world once more. It wasn’t to be and, sadly, it was another very disappointing night. I won’t criticise him too much for the chances he had that he missed as the ball just didn’t quite fall to him the way it needed to, and I will not criticise his work rate because you could tell that he was hungry. But that hunger was of little use as his decision making is the thing that is doing him in at the moment. Wrong passes, missed opportunities to play in the right player, nowhere near enough times that he would take the player on and at least try a shot or two from outside the area. Are we really saying that there are not enough players in the team who can offer more than what Kent is right now? Or perhaps the coaching team know that the only way Ryan will find that zest again is through playing. I’m not sure we are in a position to carry passengers though.
Joe Aribo – 8.0 (8)
When Aribo came on for Kamara I think we all knew that this was a sensible sub to make. Kamara was offering nothing as we discussed and you are making an attacking change which is the correct approach in the scenario we found ourselves in, what had we to lose. What we did lose was our left back, and rather surprisingly the player who would fill that void in the end was big Joe. And rather miraculously, we discovered that Joe Aribo is in fact the best left back the game has ever seen! He did very well in regard to his defensive duties, got forward to help the attack and, of course, the piece de resistance, the goal. To keep the move going when it would have been easy to just let Hagi take over responsibility, to barge through 4 Braga players and, despite wanting to play in another player, realising he is better taking on the shot himself, he does so and this was an astonishing goal. He is a very good finisher, so once he got past the defence, I was quite confident he would convert. The question is, should we persist with him at left back whilst Borna is out? Or, should we use him further up, possibly as a Kent replacement?
Florian Kamberi – 6.6 (6)
This was another good sub appearance. He was more central this time which was good to see as that is where he will be most dangerous I think. He is faster than Alfredo I think so his speed could be something that we can make good use of next week. My hope is he will start on Sunday so that he can at least get a good run out prior.
Greg Stewart – 6.0 (6)
I will say this partly because Stuart McColl will be happy but also because there is truth behind it, Greg Stewart does make the team look better when he is on. He works hard, is smart on the ball, it’s nothing fancy but it is effective. He is going to be one of these unsung heroes for us long term I believe.