Rangers 3 - 1 Rapid Vienna: Rangers go top of Group G
They had to come from behind to secure what was ultimately a richly deserved victory over Rapid Vienna who stunned a fervent Ibrox crowd by taking a 42nd minute lead through Norwegian forward Veton Berisha.
It was a goal quickly cancelled out by Alfredo Morelos who later added his second of the night after captain James Tavernier had put Rangers in front from the penalty spot. It ensured Gerrard’s team built on the solid foundation of the draw they had earned on matchday one against Villarreal in Spain.
They will now go into their double header against Spartak Moscow full of confidence they are capable of making the knockout stage of the tournament.
As Gerrard had predicted may be the case, Rapid did not carry the demeanour of a side who have been in a state of turmoil for much of the season and arrived in Glasgow on the back of three consecutive league defeats.
Instead, the impetus a new manager can provide had clearly been instigated by the appointment of club legend Dietmar Kuhbauer at the start of the week. He was certainly content at the manner in which his players approached his first match in charge.
They sought to start the evening on the front foot, causing anxiety in the Rangers defence as early as the second minute when the dangerous Andrei Ivan saw a shot blocked by Connor Goldson.
Rapid were playing with purpose and aggression, albeit a little too much of the latter in the case of goalscorer Berisha when he collected the first booking of the contest for a needless ninth minute foul on Goldson.
Although Gerrard’s men gradually managed to dominate possession, they too often lacked the necessary sharpness in the attacking third of the pitch to threaten the visitors’ defence.
As Rangers struggled to find the rhythm and tempo Gerrard hopes to see them achieve, Rapid should have made the breakthrough in the 21st minute. Captain Stefan Schwab delivered a fine cross from the left to pick out Andrija Pavlovic but the Serbian striker glanced his close range header wide of Allan McGregor’s left hand post.
Rangers finally started to find a route through the compact lines of Rapid’s defensive shape and Ryan Kent hoisted up an inviting cross which Mateo Barac did well to reach just ahead of Morelos. Barac ultimately came off worse in the challenge, however, as he was forced to leave the field with blood seeping from an eye wound.
The Croatian central defender was replaced by Christopher Dibon, taking his place at the heart of a Rapid back four coming under sustained pressure for the first time.
Morelos was causing them increasing consternation with his energy and movement and the striker might have done better with a couple of headed opportunities created by James Tavernier, sending the first one wide and the next one tamely at Rapid goalkeeper Richard Strebinger.
Just as Rangers seemed to be taking control, however, they fell behind three minutes before the interval. The home defence couldn’t properly clear a low cross from Ivan with the ball breaking to Berisha who tucked home a close range shot. Rangers were adamant the goal should have been ruled out for offside and looked to have a case but French referee Ruddy Buquet was unmoved and booked McGregor for his protests.
Rangers didn’t allow their sense of injustice to stew for long as they equalised almost immediately from the restart. Tavernier found space one more down the right to whip over a fine cross and this time Morelos met it with a close range volley which left Strebinger helpless.
As Rangers looked to carry that momentum into the second half, the pace and directness of Kent continued to prove troublesome for the Rapid defence with Ivan and Mert Muldur both picking up cautions for cynical fouls on the on-loan Liverpool winger.
Rapid were firmly on the back foot for most of the second half but defended doggedly as they looked to restrict Rangers to long range efforts such as the one Scott Arfield blazed wildly off target in the 65th minute.
The home side did find the penetration to carve out a great chance to take the lead three minutes later when Daniel Candeias found space for a cross from the right to pick out Ovie Ejaria but his header from around eight yards was brilliantly saved by Strebinger diving to his right.
Rangers were pushing with increasing intensity for a winner and they were rewarded with the penalty award with six minutes of regulation time remaining. It was a simple decision for the referee as Morelos was flattened by Mario Sonnleitner’s challenge as the striker burst into the area.
Tavernier stepped up to make his now customary comprehensive job of converting from 12 yards, blasting the ball high to the keeper’s left to spark raucous celebrations inside Ibrox.
As Rapid pushed desperately for a leveller in stoppage time, Rangers added a third on the counter as Candeias’ clever flick set Morelos free to bury a low shot.