Qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League was secured on Thursday night when Rangers twice came from behind to beat Standard Liege in a game that, although poor in large parts from us, is incredibly encouraging. Liege arrived a side with nothing to lose which was far more dangerous for us than your standard fair, and the start of the match was one that gave the impression that this was going to be a tricky test for our side, possibly our toughest yet. A lot of that was down to the way that we initially reacted to that, we did not look good, we did not look like we were able to win the midfield battle, nor could our attack or defence do what we expect them to do. Even more frustration in the sense that when we managed to get an equaliser, somewhat against the run of play, we almost immediately concede again. Could this be our first loss of the season? Could we be making this a much harder task in Poland than what it needs to be? Well, having managed to draw level at the break from the penalty spot, our second half performance was much better, and the solitary goal in the second half did the job to see us into European football post-Christmas for the second year running.
The encouraging thing about this game is how the team responded. We recognised, both on the side lines and on the park, that what we were trying was not working. So we changed it. We adapted, we set up in a new shape and it worked massively in our favour. This was a game that we do not get anything from last season, and in seasons gone by, because there is something very Rangers about going into the final game of a group stage needing something. But all we need to do now is match the result that Benfica get in Belgium to secure top spot, and a seeded position in the draw for the knockout stage. We can look forward to this with our hands clasped behind our head. Whatever happens from here, we have achieved (in my opinion) the aim of advancing from the group. Anything from here is a bonus. And when we are chasing the league title and looking very good in that respect, that is a superb place to be.
Here is how you rated our players from our win over Standard at Ibrox.
Allan McGregor – 6.2 (6)
A huge congratulations to Allan McGregor who is now our outright highest appearance maker in European competition. Over his lengthy spell at Rangers he has been important on so many occasions on the big stage, making vital saves and keeping clean sheets that would prove so important on our most enjoyable European campaigns. It is a shame that on a night he breaks this record he is unable to keep that clean sheet, and in fact is conceding twice which is so rare for us these days. We will come to the defensive issues in terms of the concessions, but as far as McGregor is concerned I believe little can be done for the first goal, but the second goal would maybe be prevented if McGregor was more willing to come off his line in a situation like that. As we saw in the second half however, coming off his line is not really natural for him so we can forgive him I think for not wanting to do that so much, but instead being ready to make wonder saves that he has done so often before. Other nights under the lights will be remembered from him as opposed to this one.
James Tavernier – 6.5 (6)
The link up between Tavernier and Goldson is normally so good and consistent, but the first goal is not one they will be happy with at all. The gap between them is far too wide, and their attack are able to put in that cross which we will get to. He is also the wrong side of his man when it comes to their second goal, again very disappointing from a player who has looked far better defensively this season. However, he gets our second equaliser from the spot and is leading the side a lot more in the second half and being very vocal in driving the side on. That is what we needed and we got it, fair play to the skipper.
Connor Goldson – 6.6 (6)
His first 30 minutes looked really slack, not at all what you would expect from the consistent performer. It goes to show you how important he is when we concede twice in a game he struggles in. As mentioned before the gap is far too wide for the first goal, and he just seems too meek in a contest like this. He does however tower in a brilliant header from a corner, rising above all those around him and placing it into an area without anyone on the past. It was a really cool finish which he could have repeated in the second half as well. I will give him a bit more slack with their second goal, I think other issues are the cause of this.
Leon Balogun – 6.4 (6)
I think Balogun is the most guilty party with the poor defensive display in the first half. In my opinion he needs to attack the ball on both occasions, he just seems to be in the area without really offering anything, as though it is more important to cover the ground than deal with a situation. That said, he improves a lot in the second half and toward the end put in a vital challenge to keep us ahead at the final whistle.
Borna Barisic – 6.6 (6)
Like the rest of the defenders, there are faults from him in the Standard Liege goals. I think he is caught the wrong side of his man for goal number one, and the second goal we lose is one where I think Borna can do a lot more, in the same manner as Balogun. But this was a much better attacking show from the Croat. He delivers the perfect out-swinging corner for our first goal, and is involved in the build up to our winner as well. He could have added some gloss to the occasion with a free kick which was well saved, it would have been a carbon copy of his goal at Falkirk.
Scott Arfield – 7.7 (8) – Man of the Match
His work rate is constant and, like Arf, we will never get tired of seeing it. Through out the first half he was offering the most attacking intent, trying to link up play in the centre. The goal that he score, our winning strike, is so the kind of goal that you expect from him. The space that he runs into is well made, but it is all down to him anticipating being on the end of a ball in, and his finishing is such that you are confident he is putting it away. I was certain we had scored when the ball was put in because it was Arfield who was getting to it. So important for our campaign, and let’s hope we see that salute many times before the season is done.
Steven Davis – 7.3 (8)
A tale of two halves. The first half I was not sure what we were really getting from Davis, if anything. I think a lot of that is down to that role not being one that is going to offer much when Standard play in that manner. But the change of shape to a more standard 442 actually give him the freedom to impose himself on the game a lot more, and impose he did. Controlling the flow, passing the ball well, keeping possession and the main reason why we had the vast majority of the attacks in the second half. He is the prime example of someone who shows the benefit of a tactical change, without having to sub him off. A much better showing.
Glen Kamara – 7.3 (8)
I think we are now used to Kamara playing as well as this in the big games. Everything we have talked about before in terms of the great aspects of his game, that is what we have seen again. My only criticism is I believe he should be closing down the player a lot quicker when he crossed in for Standard’s second. But outside of that, it’s another fine night for his European CV, which some big clubs are seemingly looking at. If he must leave in the next window, it has to be for astronomical numbers. And even if it was in the summer, the fee we should receive will be a massive increase on what we paid for him, which I believe was around 50 grand!
Kemar Roofe – 6.1 (6)
Unlike the heroics of the match in Belgium, Roofe’s impact on this game was considerably less. If you wanted to find something to be positive on you could say he wins us the penalty, although whether that was his intention I would have some doubts. The only other stand out moment for me was when he is through on goal with one defender and the keeper to beat. He makes the wrong call and shoots at the goal which the on form goalie saves. For me he should either cut it across for his incoming teammate or round the keeper. Probably a nice way to sum his night up.
Alfredo Morelos – 5.9 (6)
When he brings down the Standard defender for no reason when a potential break is on in the first half, the worrying signs were there that we were going to see Alfie’s sulk on show. It is quite possible that Morelos is still adapting to this new type of striker role in the European stage, which will offer many different obstacles than the league matches. He didn’t offer any attacking threat until we score the winning goal, his run to drag the Belgian defence away from the area that Arfield is running into is important for that goal, so credit where credit is due.
Ryan Kent – 6.5 (7)
Ryan’s intentions in the first half were good, looking to bring the ball into the final third and play that decisive moment, but it was not happening for him. The best chance for him came with a shot on the half hour which did not do credit to the build up, sailing wide of the mark. His cross in for Arfield to score our third was an excellent one though. The goal involved a lot of build up but when the opportunity presented itself Kent made the move to push forward and cut back. This was in the midst of playing a slightly different role and coming slightly further back to increase the midfield numbers. He is capable of doing this, which is why he remains so important for us.
Joe Aribo – 5.8 (6)
It’s quite simple for Joe at this point when he arrives into the game. We are ahead and Standard are throwing themselves forward trying to find that crucial equaliser. Aribo arrives to shore up the midfield area, and does a grand job.
Bongani Zungu – 4.7 (5)
His arrival is so late for him to do anything outstanding so all we can say is it’s good to see him featuring, hopefully he can start some more games soon as I really like him, and special hello to any South African based readers!
Calvin Bassey – 4.9 (5)
Simply there to see it out, managed with aplomb.
Cedric Itten – 4.6 (5)