Rangers went away to Braga with a 3-2 lead, and all I could think of was “just don’t lose”. What actually happened was a magnificent team display from our lads and a 1-0 win on the night saw us through to the last 16 of the Europa League, the only Scottish club to do so…
This was an amazing display. We pressed as we did so well last Thursday, but our use of the ball felt a lot more assured and we were creating a lot more chances, including a penalty which their keeper saved very well. In fact, their keeper was excellent in the game and had it not been for him our memorable night in north west Portugal would have had a lot more flair about it. To have Borna Barisic back in the team gave our overall balance a real boost, and picking George Edmundson, a surprise inclusion for many, was a master stroke as he was a force of nature at the back.
Ryan Kent looks like he is getting back to his best, Ianis Hagi played another crucial role on the big European stage, and our midfield looked a lot more like the thing again too. Absolutely delightful. If Carlsberg did the Europa League last 32…….
Allan McGregor – 7.4 (8)
Weirdly this was not the best goalkeeping performance in this game, but still this was a solids nights work and a clean sheet away in Europe. Braga didn’t test him too much in fairness, more on that in a minute, but McGregor never looked phased when he was asked to step up. And I do love the time-wasting antics he performs when the clock is ticking. It makes me laugh, especially when I remember how much I absolutely hate that kind of stuff from an opposing keeper!
James Tavernier – 7.4 (7)
A good performance from a leader on the park. There was a freedom, in the same way as many other players had, to perform the way he knows he can, getting forward, but also doing his job defensively. As tough as that was always going to be, I thought he did a fine job.
Connor Goldson – 8.9 (8) – Joint Man of the Match
Well isn’t this a turn up for the books! I never imagined it would be possible to have a joint man of the match, but if ever there was to be a first time for something like this, it feels very appropriate that it would be this defensive duo. In regard to Connor, the shackles felt released and the confidence oozed from him which, given how he looked against St Johnstone, almost feels baffling in comparison to a much more threatening looking Braga team. But he was winning headers, winning tackles, winning psychological battles. Goldson was winning everything and as much as we can be delighted with how good he was here, it is very fair to ask how on earth he can go between two massive extremes in the space of two games.
George Edmundson – 8.9 (9) – Joint Man of the Match
THE FRIDGE! It’s quite an unusual nickname isn’t it? But he looked as solid as the kitchen piece, like Goldson he won every header, and for a first big European night, he absolutely looked like he belonged there. What calmness from the boy, the smile during the Europa League anthem would have made you believe that he might have been a little bit nervous (bloody hell I would be having kittens were it me!) but what he went on to do was by far and away the most impressive display in a Rangers jersey from him so far and a real sign of what he could become for us if he is handled right. Really really excellent display George.
Out of interest, would fan boys/girls of George Edmundson be called ‘Fridge Magnets’?
Borna Barisic – 7.3 (7)
I was pleasantly surprised, no, delighted to see Borna Barisic was fit and ready to get straight back in to the team, and he did not look out of place at all. The thing you continue to notice about Borna is his grit, something that just did not seem to exist in his early Rangers life. But he was demanding more from his team mates, getting stuck into tackles and the best of all, doing his job. I know we all thought that Joe Aribo had a future as a left back but, for now, I think it is safe to say that Borna Bear is not willing to let that role go any time soon.
Ryan Jack – 7.9 (8)
Without question the best he has played in 2020. A great display of correct passing, solid challenges and being such a pest for the central midfielders of the Portuguese side. The combination of Fransergio and Paulinha, then Novais, had very little impact on the game and so much of that should go down to the work that Jacko put in to stop them. Keep it up Ryan!
Steven Davis – 7.3 (7)
This was also better from Davis. Not to the same extent, but better. Not the same level of mistakes in giving the ball away, nowhere near that problem in fact. He sat, he controlled, he did the stuff that we saw him do so well in November and some of December, and what we were really missing in the other part of December and January. He still looks like he needs a little bit more time to get fully back to form but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Scott Arfield – 7.8 (7)
Could he have played the ball to Flo a lot sooner and a lot better? THAT chance early in the game could have set us up for a real classic, but as much as the ball to him (and in fairness it was still a tough move to pull together) wasn’t the best we still saw a really great performance from Arf, in the attacking midfield role that I honestly think we cannot do without right now. Continuous running, determination and ultimately an attacking instinct which when it comes from the middle of the park can catch teams out and be so deadly when it’s on form that Scott Arfield has made himself integral to the starting line up in my opinion.
Ianis Hagi – 7.6 (8)
The ball he plays to set up Ryan Kent is a thing of beauty. The vision to pick him out, the weight and height of the ball, everything about it was exquisite. And even with the missed penalty, more a great save than a bad shot in fairness, Ianis should still be very happy with his performance because he made the Braga defence extremely worried. Raul “Tosh McKinley” Silva must have been delighted when he was subbed off so that he did not have to deal with young Hagi. I’m sure he will have nightmares about him for a while to come. But Hagi is no nightmare, he is a dream and the dream of making him a full time Ranger is moving a step closer with our advancing to the last 16.
Florian Kamberi – 7.1 (7)
I did wonder whether being in the middle as opposed to coming in from out wide would have an effect on how Kamberi would do in a game like this. The answer, as much as it was still a very good run out, he did not look as threatening. Whether it be the opponent, or if it is the fact that playing as a lone striker in that set up does not suit him as much, there just wasn’t that same wow factor that we saw on Sunday from the forward. I think his pace still caused Braga’s very high back line a lot of bother, but the finishing touch wasn’t there and there seemed to be a bit more pressure on his shoulders than what we saw before. Not something to be concerned about I don’t believe, but do not be surprised if the next time you see him play it is from a wider part of the field.
Ryan Kent – 7.9 (8)
He tore a team apart! Well, he scored a winning goal, but we can count that I’m sure! What an occasion to grab such a goal, and the return to form that I did suspect was beginning to happen from McDiarmid Park is certainly continuing progress. He does so well with the goal, the run from deep, the speed to outpace the defender and all the while finding the stamina to muster the clever shot past the in form Matheus. And did you see what it meant to him!? Never ever question the attitude of Ryan Kent. When he was not playing well, it was down to things not falling for him and him trying to over compensate as a result. One more improved game from him and I think we can say that he is back to his old self. Let us see when that happens (Tynecastle please).
Joe Aribo – 6.2 (6)
Despite some heroic acts of late, Joe could only find a place on the bench, and it is a credit to the team who started the game and looked so good that this did not seem like a massive shock come full time. He comes on to help try see out the game and he does, from the right wing position which is the area of the park I believe he will eventually find himself at most for Rangers.
Sheyi Ojo – 5.6 (6)
The lesser-spotted Sheyi Ojo! It has been a while since he was on the park for us, and he looked quick as he usually does. A more composed forward may have taken the ball into the corner when he was alone in an attacking position but I will not fault him for at least trying a shot at goal in a game that was very much done in terms of a contest by that stage.