The first leg in Belgium produced 7 goals and no one would have thought that the return leg would also see the two sides share 7 goals between them, albeit a more one sided affair for the home side on this occasion. To have produced yet another fantastic result in the knockout stages in Europe is absolutely fantastic from this team. No side that reaches this stage of the competition should be taken lightly and yet we scored NINE goals against one of the best teams in Belgium this season. And any suggestion that our opponents over these two games were poor should be countered with the fact that in two games they nearly scored as many goals against us as all the domestic sides have in the league this season. The draw for the last 16 has seen us be paired against Czech giants Slavia Prague, who are leading their own title race and look set to secure that particular title as well. This feels like a proper European tie between two giants of their respective countries from the two biggest cities. And as much as this will be a tougher test for our side, it is not beyond us. It certainly does not feel like as big a step up as Bayer Leverkusen was last year. Whether we do progress or not, and by the time the games come around we could well be putting all our focus on this competition, it is just great to be in the “hat”.
The game got off to a great start for us with some excellent pressure leading to a lovely first time finish. Our dominance of the first half faded to the point that Antwerp found an equaliser after poor back tracking from ourselves and a difficult game for our starting right back. The half time change in that position paid off and a real story of redemption was found with our second goal, followed by an absolutely exquisite third goal from us to put the tie out of reach, despite a quick goal back for the Belgians after a lack of communication from two of our stalwarts. Any nerves were put to bed when we were awarded a penalty that was soundly converted before a second penalty was also smashed home from a different source to complete a truly magnificent result and allowing us fans to dare to dream.
Here is how you rated our players from the night we once again reached the last 16 of the Europa League.
Allan McGregor – 6.0 (6)
When McGregor looks back on these two games he will most likely be disappointed in his own game given the fact he conceded as many goals as he did. Now a goalkeeper conceding goals in not uncommon of course (although given our season…) but in particular the second goal we concede could have easily been avoided and a lot of blame will likely fall on the keepers shoulders. He comes out to try and grab the lofted ball from Rafaelov but he can see that Goldson is chasing the ball down, however Goldson cannot see McGregor advancing due to having his eye on the ball. Allan likely did not shout loud enough to make Goldson aware he was looking to take the ball himself, which is quite rare for him anyway as he much prefers staying on his line to make fantastic saves, but either way he collides with Connor and Lamkal Ze has the easiest of finishes. A “brain fart” for our defence that thankfully did not cost us.
Leon Balogun – 5.0 (5)
His past two displays at right back have been very good but this time something was very off for Leon. He was really struggling to deal with Lukaku and his attempt at stopping him in the build up to our first goal was…interesting. His removal at half time suggested that there was an injury issue that was preventing him from playing to his maximum and that was confirmed at full time by the gaffer. Given the importance of the league games coming up, this was the right decision to take.
Connor Goldson – 6.2 (6)
I mentioned the error between him and the keeper for Antwerp’s second and I place less blame on him for that, but in terms of his overall game this would be classed as somewhat average for Connor, as he was not able to dominate his battle with the Antwerp attack as he normally would do in games this season. Whether the step up in class is something that Connor feels a bit more or not is something we will keep an eye on in the next tie. He is more than capable of doing really well at this level, but he will need to play better against Slavia Prague than he has done over the two games against Antwerp.
Filip Helander – 6.5 (6)
It’s important to state that once again Filip Helander has played a match and we have not lost, this remarkable run for the Swedish defender continues in earnest. All this despite having the least involvement on the park, he had the fewest touches of the ball in the entire match. Now that says more for the players in front of him in a positive sense, absolutely, but again you are talking about the presence that Helander gives you and it clearly makes a difference to the team.
Borna Barisic – 6.9 (7)
When the referee awarded our first penalty of the night, our third in the tie, seeing Borna step up to take it was very interesting given his miss at the weekend. Nothing was different about how he stepped up to take it, but what he did do was thunder the ball into the same area that he likes to hit it into. If that’s the only area you are going to hit the ball to, you might as well make it as hard as possible to save. How long that attitude can last is up for debate, but it killed any slight hope that the Belgians may have had of a comeback. He also did a fine job defensively I would say, a good night for Borna Bear.
Glen Kamara – 7.0 (7)
If you pick one moment from Kamara’s evening it is his involvement in our third goal. Yes it was right at the start and still required a lot from the rest of the team to complete the move, but the space that was in front of us needed to be capitalised on and it would not have happened had Kamara not played the ball at the ideal speed for Hagi to take. A midfielder in a game like this needs to have the vision to see such moves, and this was the beginning of one of the finest goals of the season. Once again, when it comes to European games, Kamara is one of the first names on the teamsheet.
Steven Davis – 6.9 (7)
Davis did not lose a single duel he had in the game. By that what I mean is any battle for possession of the ball he had, he came out on top, whether it be retaining the ball or winning it back. It is so easy for us to simply talk about the way he dictates a game or his passing ability, but the role he has requires him to put in that kind of defensive shift, and he did an excellent job of it. Soon, the time will come for him to play less in Scotland and to focus on European ties. That is going to help us a lot.
Joe Aribo – 6.5 (6)
Yes, you can talk about the fact he was very good at distributing the ball. Yes, you can talk about how he managed to draw the most fouls in the match. But I cannot think of anything else regarding Aribo than their first goal and the part that he played in that. Antwerp were breaking down the left hand side and a number of their attackers were moving into the box, anticipating the ball in. A number of our defenders were ready to combat this but one man who could have helped a whole lot with this was Joe. He should be running to the near post to anticipate the ball coming in, but he saunters toward the penalty area like there is no real danger ahead. This was a shocking lack of defensive awareness and work rate which is all the more frustrating when you see how good he can be in the attack. Maybe he just wants to be a number 10 that only needs to worry about attacking. It would be a shame if that was the case as he will get a lot more game time if he plays in the middle and works on that side of the game as well.
Ianis Hagi – 6.9 (7)
You play Ianis Hagi to get those one off moments. Those opportunities to punish a team with that added quality in the middle of the park. Again, referring to our third goal, the pass he plays to send Morelos on his way is a wonderfully weighted ball played from an area of the park you can tell he loves finding himself in. Although the rest of his game was a more quiet affair, despite a couple attempts at goal that tested De Wolf, it was still that one moment from him that made his inclusion in the team so worth it and so important.
Alfredo Morelos – 9.5 (9) – Man of the Match
This has to go down as one of the finest performances from one of our players in Europe for quite some time. It was the complete display, a goal, two assists, and a the winning of the penalty. But it was also the control of the game that he sought after that was so impressive, as well as a moment of sportsmanship I think we were all rather bemused by at the time but given the result we can look back on it and be incredibly proud. The goal he scores was opportunistic for him given the work done by Kent but all the same the finish is a tough one to pull off. To do it first time, that’s what makes that goal so impressive. Our second goal owes a lot to the pass played from Morelos into the feet of Patterson. Again Antwerp are caught off guard and the maturity to play that ball into Nathan’s feet is very exciting for the upcoming games. And then you go from an excellent pass to an excellent run after Hagi sends the ball up the field. Alfredo is ready to pounce on it and is clever in that he does not immediately take the ball but waits that extra moment to move passed the defender before playing an excellent ball into the centre to repay the favour to Ryan. And it might not always be the done thing to praise a player for winning a penalty but you again have to look at the movement from Alfredo. And his stopping the play when the Antwerp player pulled up caught the eye of the footballing world which, although not crucial, feels like a wee added bonus to his evening. Speed, finishing, strength, maturity, intelligence. All of it. And it was fantastic.
Ryan Kent – 8.5 (8)
You cannot argue with a goal and an assist evening from a player, Kent will be very pleased with this match for sure. The pressure he puts on the Belgian defence early on is superb and they cannot handle it, which allows him to play that ball back for Morelos to tuck away so well, a great way to set the tone for the match and so much credit is due to Ryan for this. And because the team spirit is so wonderful at the moment, Alfredo was keen to return the favour and he saw Kent speeding into the area to knock home the ball across first time. When he plays like this it gives us a real chance of causing a number of teams a number of problems in the competition. He makes our play very exciting indeed.
Nathan Patterson – 7.5 (8)
During his absence I made a number of comments about how he would be kicking himself at missing out on a chance to make his mark in the team. Steven Gerrard believed that he was worth giving a second chance to, and his inclusion in the squad for this game raised eyebrows. It was even more surprising to see him come on at half time, and from then it was up to him to show both the manager and the support that he is worth offering that second chance to. It took him 16 seconds to prove it. As soon as the referee blew his whistle you saw him look to run into the open space on the flank and he just kept going. Morelos played the perfect ball for him and the finish from there, given the context of everything surrounding him at that point, was absolutely fantastic. His celebration showed a boy both relieved and letting out all the frustration of the last couple of weeks. Not only did he score this superb goal, he also was great defensively, and Antwerp had so much less chances down their left as a result. Nathan answered that question here, he is worth another shot, he is worth persisting with and he can definitely take on that position in the future. Very well done kid.
Scott Arfield – 5.8 (6)
Coming on at a time where things felt far less dangerous and he is merely there to see things out. A straight forward run out and I think we will likely see him as a substitute for the time being, until he puts in a supreme display again of course.
Bongani Zungu – 4.9 (5)
Another surprise inclusion into the team but his future seems far less certain. Ideal to help see a game out, but not enough has been seen to suggest he can play that anchor role. He will be very grateful to have had another chance to wear our jersey on nights like this.
Scott Wright – 6.2 (6)
I continue to be extremely impressed by his cameo’s and he wins our second penalty of the night and, like Alfredo, he deserves credit for getting into that position and forcing the defence to take him down. An exciting prospect without question.
Cedric Itten – 5.8 (6)
Again lets talk about team spirit and lets talk about Borna giving Cedric the ball for him to blast home the awarded penalty. Strikers need goals and this was a fine finish which will hopefully keep his spirits high whilst he finds his game time limited. But again, he will be someone who will feature more toward the seasons end when others will be rested for bigger European nights.