First half goals from Leon Balogun and Kemar Roofe were enough to see off Brondby at Ibrox in what Steven Gerrard had willingly accepted was a must-win fixture for his Scottish champions who came into it both goalless and pointless after their first two outings in the group.
Rangers rode their luck at times as Brondby missed several clear-cut chances of their own at key moments. But the victory was ultimately well deserved and keeps Rangers’ hopes of reaching the knockout phase of the competition for a fourth consecutive season very much alive.
It was another frustrating night for Alfredo Morelos but while the focus has inevitably centered on the Colombian striker in assessments of Rangers’ relatively low goal return since the start of the campaign, their success last season was built on the load being shared throughout Gerrard’s squad.
To that end, it was a welcome development for the manager to see Balogun step up and open the scoring with his first goal for the club.
An imposing presence in both penalty areas, it is surprising that it has taken the Nigerian international defender until his 40th appearance for Rangers to open his account.
But the timing was perfect as far the home support were concerned when Balogun rose to meet James Tavernier’s 16th minute corner, the Rangers captain having to endure several objects being thrown at him by the raucous visiting Brondby fans before he could deliver the ball.
Veteran Brondby goalkeeper Thomas Mikkelsen, deputising for injured first choice Mads Hermansen, was beaten by Balogun’s powerful header despite managing to get a touch on the ball.
The goal settled early nerves in the Rangers ranks which had seen them lose possession straight from kick-off and immediately present a chance to Brondby dangerman Mikael Uhre who blazed a shot over Allan McGregor’s crossbar with just 15 seconds on the clock.
When Rangers settled down, they soon began to dominate with some slick and intricate passing. Steven Davis, replacing the suspended Glen Kamara, dictated the tempo from midfield and provided the platform for Joe Aribo and John Lundstram to push forward and link up with the front three of Ianis Hagi, Morelos and Roofe.
But as Brondby mounted a spirited response to falling behind, there was a real reprieve for Rangers in the 27th minute when their defence was cut open down the visitors’ left flank. Uhre was able to cut the ball back into the path of the unmarked Andrija Pavlovic. It was a glorious chance for the Serbian striker but he blazed over from around 10 yards.
It proved to be a pivotal moment in the contest as Rangers duly doubled their lead three minutes later.
Scottish football became fully accustomed to the dramatic involvement of VAR during the last international break and it was the Ibrox side who savoured its intervention on this occasion.
Aribo’s cross from the right picked out Morelos who should have done better with a close range header which Mikkelsen was able to parry. The ball broke to Roofe who bundled it home, only for his celebrations to be stymied by an offside decision by the assistant referee.
It was of the most marginal proportions but after a lengthy delay, the revelries of the home players and fans were in full swing again when the VAR review was completed.
It would have been a far more comfortable second half for Rangers had Morelos not been unfortunate to see his shot from the edge of the penalty area smack off Mikkelsen’s right hand post just before the break.
As it was, anxiety crept back into Rangers play at the start of the second period when they were again caught dozing at the kick-off. Borna Barisic’s lazy back pass went straight to Uhre who raced free but wastefully steered his shot wide of McGregor’s left hand post.
Jens Gammelby then saw a shot deflected just over off Balogun as Gerrard’s men found themselves hemmed into their defensive third of the pitch for a spell.
They gradually roused themselves again and there were loud appeals for a penalty when a typically fleet-footed jink into the area by Aribo was halted by Sigurd Rosted’s challenge. This time, however, the on-field officials’ view of proceedings was not challenged by VAR.
Rangers were forced into a change just after the hour when Balogun hobbled off gingerly to be replaced by Calvin Bassey.
While the threat of a comeback from Brondby had diminished after their menacing start to the second half, the Rangers fans would have welcomed the added insurance of a third goal.
Scott Arfield came agonisingly close to providing it when he latched onto a smart pass from fellow substitute Scott Wright and saw his shot hit the crossbar.
Fashion Sakala had also entered the fray, replacing Morelos whose wait for his 100th Rangers goal goes on. The Zambian international should have claimed his first European goal for the club when he was set free on goal with eight minutes remaining but drove his shot too close to Mikkelsen who saved.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun (Bassey 64), Barisic; Aribo, Davis, Lundstram (Arfield 78); Hagi (Wright 78), Morelos (Sakala 71), Roofe (Bacuna 78). Subs not used: McCrorie, McLaughlin, Patterson, Kelly.
Brondby (3-5-2): Mikkelsen, Heggheim, Maxso, Rosted; Gammelby, Cappis (Greve 81), Frendrup (Borkeeiet 73), Slimane (Radosevic 46), Mensah (Riveros 62); Uhre (Hedlund 62), Pavlovic. Subs not used: Aegidius, Bruus, Tshiembe, Fallenius, Divkovic, Bjur, Singh.