Alfredo Morelos further enhanced his burgeoning reputation as Rangers’ most talismanic striker since Ally McCoist was in his pomp as he fired Steven Gerrard’s side on their way to a precious Europa League victory over Porto.
The Colombian international made the breakthrough with his 15th European goal for the Ibrox club before Steven Davis wrapped up the three points which leave Rangers firmly in control of their own destiny in Group G.
Morelos is now just six goals behind McCoist in the all-time list of Rangers’ European goalscorers as he continues to demonstrate just how indispensable he is to Gerrard’s hopes of tangible success this season.
It was a night when Rangers had to show resilience and ride their luck at times, especially in a first half when they played second best to Porto for long spells. But their perseverance paid dividends in a much improved second half display.
Gerrard’s pre-match assertion that Rangers had faced a Porto side operating at their optimum level in the Dragao Stadium a fortnight earlier was not at all supported by the manner in which the visitors went about their business at Ibrox.
From the opening moments, they looked a far more menacing and slicker side than they had in that 1-1 draw. Rangers’ hopes of feeding off the atmosphere in the early stages diminished as Porto’s aggressive and purposeful start subdued the home support.
Gerrard’s men almost found themselves trailing in the eighth minute. Alex Telles whipped over a corner from the left which veteran defender Pepe flicked towards goal. Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor was beaten but Glen Kamara came to his team’s rescue with an acrobatic clearance right on the line.
Porto sustained that early momentum with their high intensity pressing unsettling Rangers who found it difficult to secure any meaningful possession. There was another let-off for the hosts in the 12th minute when Brazlilian striker Francisco Soares should have done better than head wide from his compatriot Otavio’s fine cross.
Ryan Kent gave the Rangers fans a timely lift a minute later, the volume in the stadium increasing once more as he forced his way down the left with some clever footwork to force a corner.
It came to nothing, however, and James Tavernier’s set piece delivery left much to be desired again when Chancel Mbemba conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position with a foul on Morelos, the Rangers skipper floating the ball straight into the grasp of Porto goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin.
Rangers were at least now making an occasional impression as an attacking force and Kent’s composure deserted him when he blazed wildly over from the edge of the penalty area.
Ryan Jack’s tenacity in midfield was gradually breaking up the previously untroubled fluidity of Porto’s play and a tremendous piece of ball-winning roused the home support again as he set Kent free on the right. The winger’s attempt to find the unmarked Morelos with his cross was cut out by the Porto defence.
There was a more even flow to the contest now and Porto threatened again in the 34th minute when McGregor showed brilliant reactions to save Soares’ close range header from a Telles free-kick. As it was, the veteran ‘keeper could have spared himself the exertions as Soares had strayed offside.
Rangers passed up a premium chance to snatch the lead in first half stoppage time. When Porto failed to properly clear a corner, Davis and Tavernier combined to set up Brandon Barker but he wastefully slashed his shot over from around ten yards.
Rangers began the second half at a better tempo with Kent eager for any opportunity to spark them into life in their attacking third of the pitch. The £7 million man cut in from the right to screw a shot wide of target, then popped up on the left as he found space to finally force Marchesin into his first save of the evening on the hour mark as the Argentinian ‘keeper got down smartly to his right to turn the ball behind.
Porto were more rarely glimpsed in and around the Rangers penalty area, although Connor Goldson had to make a crucial clearance when Wilson Manafa’s effort beat McGregor.
It proved a significant intervention as it was Rangers who broke the deadlock in the 69th minute as Morelos claimed his 21st goal of the season. It was a magnificent finish from the striker who opened up his body to receive a low cross from Jack and guided a left foot shot beyond Marchesin’s right hand into the corner of the net.
The raucous celebrations which acclaimed that goal had barely subsided when Davis doubled Rangers’ lead and effectively sealed the deal for Gerrard’s side four minutes later. Morelos was cast in the role of provider this time, holding the ball up on the left and feeding it back to the edge of the penalty area for Davis whose low shot beat Marchesin with the aid of a deflection off Ivan Marcano.