For the second year in a row, we have reached the last 16 of the Europa League, and on paper this tie certainly felt more manageable than the German giants of Bayer Leverkusen. The reality was the Czech league leaders, and historically one of the biggest in the country, Slavia Prague gave us a much harder test than we expected, in particular in the early stages of the game. Slavia came out flying and it did not take them long to go ahead in the game with a goal that, although we will be annoyed at a lack of closing down, was still a well hit strike from their own version of a Romanian attacking midfielder. They did not let up at that point either and around 20 minutes in it did feel as though the jig was up for Europe. But we then started to do what we tend to do and get ourselves into matches, which I think is more the issue with the opening stages of the match over in real issues of the previous weekend’s celebrations. We kept looking for ways into the match and then we found it, a set piece move that ultimately saw the ball cut back for it to be tucked into the net, a vital away goal in the tie and, from a psychological perspective, a really great scoreline to have going into the break.
The question going into the second half was whether we could continue to push on in the second half and whether Slavia would be able to maintain that same high level of performance for the second half. The game became a very interesting contest and both teams had chances. The best chance of a third goal in the game came right at the end, and it was Prague who would be holding their heads in their hands trying to comprehend how they did not score in stoppage time to take a lead to Glasgow. They did not get the goal due to one of the greatest saves that we have ever seen from a Rangers goalkeeper, or indeed any goalkeeper. A 1-1 draw, with a home game to come, the task seems simple. If we don’t concede, we are through, any goals we score gives us a better chance of making it to the quarter finals of the Europa League.
Here is how you rated our players from our match in the Czech Republic.
Allan McGregor – 9.1 (9) – Man of the Match
You cannot do justice to just how good this save is. The header from the Prague player is perfectly executed, exactly what you would want your player to do from the corner. So many are then simply assuming that the ball is going into the net. For us to see McGregor clutching the ball moments later, it defies belief. Except, perhaps it doesn’t. It’s not as though it’s the first wonder save we have seen him make in Europe. It’s not as if he has not made a great save from him this season. During his two spells at the club, he has proven himself to be one of the greatest goalkeepers Scotland has produced. One of the greatest goalkeepers we have ever had. And it now feels like it is a conversation of whether your preference is McGregor or Goram, as opposed to McGregor and Klos.
Nathan Patterson – 7.0 (7)
For a young guy to be playing on a stage like this, you know that he is going to learn a great deal from this game. I think he found it tough at the start, and a few decisions on the ball suggested that from a mental point of view it was a tricky time for him. But as the game went on he looked more and more like he belonged at that level, and the block he makes late on is from a player with years of experience. I continue to get very excited about young Nathan.
Connor Goldson – 7.0 (7)
I think a lot of the reason for Nathan finding his feet in this game is down to the influence of our leader in Connor Goldson. Slavia could have scored more goals in this game, Connor did his part in preventing that. I’ve seen talk about who people would suggest as their players of the season. Connor is often mentioned, and I have to say that he gets my vote. He embodies what has been so good about this season. Consistency.
Filip Helander – 7.4 (7)
The fact he retains this remarkable run of not being in a team that has lost a game in over a year, and he has played a lot. This was the hardest game we have had this season so far, and yet we drew, and Helander was the man who grabbed the goal that gives us the advantage going into next Thursday. And can we please start the campaign to stop this idea that when Fil plays people need to say he is slow? He isn’t! He is a different type of defender from Balogun but he can still keep up with your average attacker all the same.
Borna Barisic – 6.8 (7)
Their right back Bah looks like he is going to have a really good footballing career as an attacking right back. Extremely fast, good forward thinking player, many big clubs will be keeping an eye on him. Even after getting booked early on, Borna did a really good job at limiting what the Dane could do to us. His set pieces looked quite good as well I thought.
Glen Kamara – 6.5 (6)
Rangers struggled to win the midfield battle, something we are normally capable of doing when Glen Kamara is on his game. We did not get that here, perhaps a surprise at what Slavia were giving us meant the idea Kamara had going into the match had to change and that adaptation meant we did not get top notch from him. All the same, even when this is the rating he gets, he is still a very important part of this side in games like this.
Steven Davis – 6.5 (6)
Davis will probably be the most disappointed in his game here from the point of view of not controlling the game as much as he is used to. What we can be sure of is he will be relishing the opportunity to right that particular wrong when the return leg arrives.
Joe Aribo – 6.9 (7)
Past couple of games Aribo has been far more like the thing and I think it is down to where he is finding himself on the field. A point I have discussed with others is in relation to what we expect from him. Would we be as critical of Ianis Hagi if he was playing in the middle three? We wouldn’t because it is not where we know he does his best work. Aribo on the other hand is asked to do that role and because we know he is versatile, he is judged more. He will be at his best when he plays as an out and out number 10. Whether we see that or not is a whole other question.
Ianis Hagi – 6.4 (7)
You play Hagi for the individual moments. I’m not sure there is any other player who would have the wherewithal to chase the ball down and knock it into the middle in the hope that a player will get a foot onto the ball. The credit for this goal should be his, and yet the rest of his game is what people have judged him on, which I think is unfortunate.
Alfredo Morelos – 6.7 (6)
He is our star player for nights like these and a lack of goals or goal mouth action should not take away from the fact he does help the team offer a physical issue for opposition defences. I see him, at this moment, as our clubs biggest asset, and if it is true that big clubs are looking at his performances here, then I would say to them that they better pay the big bucks because he is absolutely worth it.
Ryan Kent – 6.3 (6)
Kent has not done so much tearing apart recently but that is not a huge concern at this stage (especially as the league is now won) but when you allow yourself to think big in this competition, and I mean REALLY big, then we will need him to have one of those outstanding games to stand a chance. But when you go from Brahim Hemdani being the key to your style in Europe to Ryan Kent, it shows you how much of a good footballing side we are becoming.
Scott Arfield – 5.5 (5)
I’m now seeing Arfield looking more and more like he is finding that top form again, even though we are only seeing it in glimpses due to coming off the bench. When we talk about who would be in our team of the season I would suggest that Arfield makes that starting line up for what he has produced when he was at his best.
Kemar Roofe – 4.6 (5)
Good to see him back playing after another lay off. I can see his use being as a sub for the remainder of the Euro campaign due to how well we look set up front at the moment. Maybe some domestic games to mix things up a bit our end.
Bongani Zungu – 4.1 (5)
When he comes on you know you are holding on to what you have cause that is what his role always seems to be. In fairness to the manager, it has worked a treat.