There are more taxing testing grounds than the Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar, regardless of what has befallen Scottish sides on this patch of synthetic turf in the recent past.
Steven Gerrard decided against throwing too many new signings into the mix with just two – Jordan Jones and Sheyi Ojo – starting against St Joseph’s in the heat.
Both caught the eye, the latter especially so after claiming the goal that put Rangers two up shortly after half-time. The winning of the tie is now a formality. Next week’s second leg can now be employed as another 90-minute run out for players such as Ojo, pictured, on loan from Liverpool, to continue their settling-in process.
Having scored against Oxford United last weekend, he’s already left an impression on Rangers fans. Last night’s performance against admittedly paltry opposition was another pointer that he could be a vital player this season.
His driving runs on the right of midfield provided another dimension for Gerrard’s side, who secured a comprehensive win in a professional manner.
They did take some time to get into their stride, as tends to happen at this early stage of the season. A dry pitch did not help and neither did a stiff breeze in an exposed stadium based across a security fence from the Gibraltar International Airport.
Surprisingly, it’s not been named after Lee Casciaro, who scored the winning goal for Red Imps on the same pitch against Celtic three years ago. This was a reminder of the potential for slip-up. It’s perhaps why Gerrard resisted the urge to throw too many new signings into the mix.
It was a player who might view last night as a new start who helped get Rangers on their way. Borna Barisic fell out of Gerrard’s plans quite dramatically last season but set up Ryan Jack for the volleyed opener shortly after half-time with a clever cross.
The Croatian full-back looked fit and ready to make the most of a second chance, if that is what he’s been given. It looks as though it is.
Rangers supporters will rightly still enthuse about Ojo’s contribution. He slipped into the side in midfield and looked comfortable throughout. He should have scored before he did but cleared the bar from close in after James Tavernier’s free-kick from the right. Ojo made up for this minutes later when dispossessing Mauri on the edge of the box and then advancing a few steps before steering a deft shot into the bottom left hand corner with his left foot.
Barisic got the third with a well-executed left-footed free-kick that squeezed in, just. An Alfredo Morelos header with 13 minutes left was a reminder of the Colombian’s capabilities. But the Rangers fans might not be so fearful about his future plans if Ojo can continue in this vein. He’s not a striker but he looks set to thrill the Rangers fans with his determination to support the forward, which was Jermain Defoe in the first instance last night before Morelos replaced the veteran.
Another new face, former Charlton midfielder Joe Aribo, also made an appearance midway through the second-half and looked hungry for the ball. He’s the one that many Rangers fans believe could prove the most inspired of the summer acquisitions.
Greg Stewart was given a run-out towards the end, by which time the game was over. Like Ojo, he can play on both wings though relies more on trickery than power.
Either way, Rangers look to have options whether or not winger Ryan Kent can be lured back from Liverpool. Another wide player, Daniel Candeias, did not even make the squad last night.