One of the most entertaining games of football that Rangers have been involved in for a long time, one that any neutral watching would have enjoyed a great deal, but of course for us, who very much have a horse in the race, it was a night of ups and downs which required a proper lie down afterward. We always suspected that the team was going to put in a much more attacking performance in Europe after a run of games domestically were goals felt much more at a premium, but as a result of this we seemed to sacrifice our defensive solidity, conceding as many goals in the 90 minutes as we have in the whole of 2021 up to now. Injury issues, an extremely odd refereeing performance and a number of chances for Antwerp did not help the health of fans watching at home, but what did help was the way in which we responded to adversity and, having watched an introduction to the match that gave many goosebumps (which was rather cool to see on the big screen for yours truly) to have come away from Belgium with the victory felt incredible for us.
We went ahead in the latter part of the first half after a goalkeeping error was eventually capitalised on, that crucial away goal secured and perhaps thoughts already turning to the return tie in a weeks time. But, a lack of defensive discipline allowed Royal Antwerp to equalise from a free kick, before the referee inexplicably gave the Belgian side a penalty 6 minutes into stoppage time in the first half. What was more astounding was that the Video Assistant Referee felt this was a justified call, despite having the ability to have a much better view of things, and the man who fell down in the area converted the spot kick to make the score 2-1 at half time. Justice was served in the second half when we were awarded a penalty of our own for a shirt tug in the box. The penalty was just about converted, but too much of a gap in the middle allowed the Antwerp midfielder to shoot from 20 yards out to put the home side back in front again. Our players responded excellently though, and we drew level again with a wonderfully worked goal from one of our substitutes, before another penalty was awarded to us (it’s not just in Scotland Timothy 😉) and this time it was emphatically converted to give us the lead once more, which we would hold onto to complete a memorable Europa League tie for us.
Here is how you rated our players from this topsey turvey tie.
Allan McGregor – 6.6 (6)
Three goals conceded but the reality is that it could have been more had it not been for some important interventions from McGregor late on. When the ball was inexplicably last in the middle with Antwerp clean through on goal, McGregor stood strong and blocked the shot well. It is not unreasonable to ask why McGregor does not make more effort with the shots that lead to us conceding, although the penalty was ever so close to being saved in fairness, but there was an element of Andy Goram style “I won’t make the effort if I know it’s going in anyway” about the way he reacts to the first and third goals. That said, he is a reason why we have come away with the win, and the mental strength to keep going in what was a much tougher night than he is used to shows a lot about him.
James Tavernier – 5.4 (5)
Injuries happen and it was only a matter of time before one of our key players was going to pick up a knock. We have been very fortunate this season in terms of players being available and having cover for players who are not fit enough or suspended, but this feels like a big blow for the team. So crucial to what we do on the park, he picked up a knee injury in the first half which he tried to run off but it was soon very clear that there was no way he was going to be able to continue. As things stand it is not clear how long he could be absent for, the hope is not too long, but I’m sure there are certain young right backs in the team who will be kicking themselves at missing the chance to get a run of games in the team due to sheer stupidity.
Connor Goldson – 6.6 (6)
As soon as Tav went off, it was up to Goldson to become the leader of the team, a role I now feel he can thrive in. He is one of the leaders already of course, but he is now the focal point. He had some good chances to score in the game, unlucky not to convert from a corner, but in terms of defensive work you can maybe question where he is for the third Antwerp goal. That said, that was an anomaly for his night as he won plenty of duels and blocked a few shots as well. If we are to be without the skipper for a while, it is vital that we have Connor in the team all the time.
Filip Helander – 6.0 (5)
A tougher night for Helander who did not find as much joy against the Antwerp attack, particularly up against their target man Avenatti. Normally so dominant at the back, he did not exude the same level of class that he has shown at other points this season, and given we can now expect him to play a lot over the next few weeks, we certainly need to see him getting back to that defensive coolness sooner rather than later.
Borna Barisic – 7.5 (8)
This could be the time for Borna to shine. For so long playing second fiddle to the other side in terms of attacking from wide, the onus will now be on him to provide that attacking flair with his excellent work with crossing the ball and, more importantly, set pieces. When we were awarded the penalty early in the second half, the thought on all of our minds was “who will take it?” Barisic was the answer, and even though his first penalty was not the most confident of hits, it still found the back of the net and he remedied his error in the first half in which he needlessly fouled which allowed Antwerp to equalise from the resulting free kick. When Borna finds that extra level of drive, you can see his performance level shoot up, and for the rest of the game was excellent, looking like a real danger getting forward and doing a better job at the back. The second penalty he scored was far more emphatic, and his reaction the goalkeeper’s antics was something I absolutely loved, not willing to put up with any nonsense. This is your chance to be a vital part in our final push towards the title now Borna. Take that chance.
Scott Arfield – 5.6 (6)
What is Scott Arfield in the team to do? Provide energy and solidity, with added attacking capabilities to boot. He was a really important player in the middle of the park, winning the most tackles in the match, but that importance was overshadowed by a lack of end product which we could have done with in the match. The simple fact of the matter is we did not win the midfield battle, and we can only hope that as the games go on the influence that Arfield has on games returns to what we know he is capable of.
Steven Davis – 6.6 (6)
He must have been absolutely flabbergasted when the referee pointed to the spot to give Antwerp their penalty when Davis merely touched the heel of Rafaelov. The frustration of that moment will not have deterred him as he again did his part to spread the play, despite not having the same level of dominance in the centre that he has shown in recent weeks. Again, the importance of him winning those duels was shown here.
Glen Kamara – 6.5 (6)
You could tell the class of Kamara was a step above that of the midfielders on show for the Belgian side, but things were not falling his way anywhere near as much as he would have hoped. He was very good at getting passed his man in the midfield but his issue came when he did not use the ball well enough on a number of occasions to create that big chance. All the same, he was definitely a useful player to have in the side and I would expect him to line up again next Thursday.
Kemar Roofe – 4.5 (5)
I’m sure Roofe would have loved nothing more than to go back to the home of his old rivals and put in a match winning display. All of the attention from Belgium going into the match was whether the former Anderlecht man would haunt Antwerp, but another injury set back meant he would only be able to participate in the first 45 minutes of the match. During that first half his impact was minimal, and the worry is that again he is off with a similar calf issues which now really needs properly addressed. A real shame but I think it is unlikely we will see Roofe play for us for a wee while now.
Alfredo Morelos – 7.9 (8) – Man of the Match
Great to have Alfredo back in the team for a number of reasons, and of course in relation to this game specifically, he was really important to our victory. He was at the centre of all that was good from us in an attacking sense, using the strength he has as a target man to hold off the various Antwerp defenders, and looking to find goal opportunities for himself and others. He is there to take the loose ball off the goalkeeper and feed Aribo to see us go ahead, before it was his shirt that was pulled in the area leading to the second goal. He lays the ball off to Kent who does the rest regarding our third goal, and with all of those key contributions in the match (and more) the one thing that made me happiest about his game? He remained calm. He remained cool. He played for the team, not for himself. That type of Morelos is the very best Morelos you can get, and I want to see that all the time from him.
Joe Aribo – 6.3 (6)
It was a classy finish with players closing down around him and looking to make a block on the goal line, I was very pleased to see him sticking that away and giving us the lead. But there were other parts of his game that were less pleasing. The main moment being the ball he inexplicably gives away in our third for them to run through on goal, and had it been tucked away for their fourth then all the blame would have been on Aribo. He is such an enigma because one week I feel he is the ideal player for the centre of the park but on other occasions I feel you need to have him as far away from our goal as possible. I keep going back and forth on where he should be on the field, and I find him desperately frustrating at times. He is maybe another one of those players that you feel would play better for us consistently if we played in a different shape.
Leon Balogun – 6.8 (7)
The answer to the question of who would take Tav’s place at right back was Leon Balogun. A position he is used to having started his career in that role in Germany, Balogun put in a really good shift to the point that I would be very comfortable with him being the man to play that position for the time that Tavernier is sidelined. The thing that you worry about with Balogun as a defender is reduced a lot when he is in that part of the field, and of course you still get all the defensive benefits when he is at full back. It was a really mature display, one that gives us confidence that even though it will be tough without our captain, we do have options to handle that.
Ryan Kent – 7.5 (7)
We haven’t had enough “tearing apart” from Kent of late so it was lovely to see him cut passed a number of defenders before pulling the ball onto his right foot and smashing it in to draw us level. Him being on the bench from the start was a real surprise, but as an impact sub he absolutely made that impact. I do wonder whether he may again start on the bench on Sunday and we might see Scott Wright play from the start, and if so, Kent knows he can come on if needed to provide that super sub role if needed. Really happy for Kent to have made such a good contribution to the game.
Ryan Jack – 6.0 (6)
Some have talked about the idea of Ryan Jack being the option to play at right back, but I would refer you to the problems that Liverpool are currently experiencing in a defensive sense. They have often used Jordan Henderson and Fabinho at centre back with their normal defenders all out injured, and although they are great players who can do a job in that role, you miss what they do in the middle a whole lot more. I think that would be the case if you put Jack in that position, and therefore I would fully expect him to line up as part of the midfield three against Dundee United on Sunday.
Ianis Hagi – 5.8 (6)
A glorious chance from a cross on the left that Hagi should have converted from close range, albeit it was from a volley. It’s maybe something about Belgium that means he cannot quite get his peak level but if that’s all it is, you stick to playing for the famous Glasgow Rangers in Scotland big man. Because Glasgow is your home and we all love you.