Rangers 3 Midtjylland 1 (agg 7-3): Morelos and Ojo fire Gers into play-off round

Three and easy for Rangers at Ibrox against Midtjylland as they advanced to the Europa League play-off round
Three and easy for Rangers at Ibrox against Midtjylland as they advanced to the Europa League play-off round
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And then there was one. Rangers’ ability to produce a performance boasting effervescence and efficiency at Ibrox allowed them to more than cruise into Europa League play-off meeting with Legia Warsaw.



The 3-1 thumping – predictably underpinned by the predatory instincts of two-goal Alfredo Morelos – both helped them post a seriously impressive 7-3 aggregate scoreline, against what could have been awkward Danish opposition, and provide yet another indication that, second season around, Steven Gerrard is ratcheting up the potency and potential of the squad he is helming.

Yet the outcome also carried a significance beyond its importance for the Govan club. Rangers are now Scotland’s only European representatives to remain in the qualifying competition that they embarked upon a month ago.

Celtic’s calamity against Cluj on Tuesday night – to drop them into a Europa League play-off – Aberdeen’s non-contest elimination by Rijeka and Kilmarnock’s mortifying loss to Connah's Quay Nomads in three weeks ago, sets Rangers apart from domestic opponents as their support demands them to be on the home front this season.

And whatever bumps Gerrard may have encountered in his first season at Ibrox, the continental domain has consistently pointed to his being a coach of calibre. Tonight's win marked his seventh straight success in Europa League qualifiers after he took the club through four and into the competition’s group stages in his opening months in charge.

His side are in the fettle and form to replicate that feat when they face down Legia across the next fortnight. The optics of how authoritative Rangers have looked in Europe this week as set against how shambolic Celtic were in shipping four goals to Cluj matters in the unique Glasgow football environment. The two tribes are emboldened as much by their enemy’s downs as their own ups. It will be all the more so as Celtic chase a record-equalling ninth title that the Ibrox legions cannot countenance.

Even allowing for their 4-2 first leg victory in Denmark, Gerrard had highlighted Celtic’s skewering as serving as a warning that the deal wasn’t done in this tie. It was, in reality, but Gerrard’s men guaranteed there would be no possibility of a humongous upset as soon as they netted their first of the evening only 14 minutes in.

By then, they had coughed up one chance – Michael Andersson screwing wide when clear in the second minute – but as soon as Morelos capitalised on a miscued clearance following a cross in from the ever-inventive Sheyi Ojo, Rangers weren’t so much on easy street as in easy town.

The Colombian later took his tally for the season to nine goals in eight games when he clinically buried the ball after another Ojo cross just after the restart and in between times the Liverpool on-loan winger got himself in on the act with the home side’s second after the roles were reversed as Morelos picked him out to bury a low effort from close in.

Rangers were nimble throughout against opponents who were stiff only in an uncomplimentary sense. They switched off a little late in conceding a face-saver from their visitors that came from Evander bundling the ball in from close range 18 minutes from time, but that was understandable. Equally so the fact that Allan McGregor was called upon to produce a couple of fine saves in those closing stages.

By then Gerrard was doing some in-game squad rotation with Greg Docherty replacing Ryan Jack and Morelos giving way to Jermain Defoe.

Gerrard had spoken this week of at last having the feeling that he has two players for every position and, that is never truer than the Morelos-Defoe axis. With the English veteran hitting a hat-trick in the 6-1 trouncing of Hibernian on Saturday before Morelos bagged a double on replacing him, the pair now appear able to dovetail in deadly fashion.

Rangers’ eight games this season have now yielded 27 goals in all, and the sense of threat they are posing is also a product of fluency and drive in midfield. It is an area where Gerrard is set to have his desired six-into-three central midfield option courtesy of a loan deal for Andy King. The Welshman was at the second leg tie ahead of an expected confirmation of a temporary switch from Leicester City today.

There is a buoyancy and growing air of expectancy around Ibrox – it was tangible among a celebratory 47,184 crowd – with the club followers starved of trophy success since 2011. Gerrard may not win any silverware in Europe but he certainly continues to win friends and influence people in how his team go about their business in this sphere.