Rangers final word: Heads are up ahead of PSV and it's all thanks to 'magic' Malik

Rangers fans had the chance to leap like Malik Tillman in the pre-match fans’ village on Saturday and recreate the American international’s headed goal against Union Saint-Gilloise. An hour or so later, he was doing it himself yards away on the pitch to send Rangers ahead against St Johnstone.

For an attacking midfielder with such powerful, aggressive running, his aerial ability – reaping two goals in two games – is what has come to the fore.

He leaps, hanging in the air like a basketball player. Maybe Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson is pushing it but ‘Magic Malik’ has a certain ring to it. He has already begun to enchant the Ibrox fans.

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Tillman also fulfils the Joe Aribo role in Rangers’ midfield, an almost languid, effortlessly entertaining presence capable of creating and carrying the ball between midfield and forward lines. But these headers set him apart, or at least they will if they keep coming.

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Last season Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team scored 128 goals but only 23, or 18 per cent, were headers. Tillman’s two of the club’s 11 this season, both headers, forms 18 percent on his own. Inexplicably St Johnstone left him unmarked for the opener on Saturday. “A really sloppy goal” Callum Davidson called it.

PSV will have been watching, and are warned.

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Rangers' rampant win over St Johnstone proves a huge point ahead of facing PSV

For a team which swings in crosses from deep as frequently as James Tavernier and Borna Barisic do for Rangers, Tillman’s knack has fast become valuable, but not relied upon. There are other aspects for Ruud van Nistelrooy’s team to consider when they follow St Johnstone to Glasgow – and Rangers hold more in reserve.

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Tillman's epic leap last week set up the Champions League play-off with PSV Einhoven. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Two late goals were tap ins, another opportunistic from Antonio Colak and the strength and depth within van Bronckhorst’s squad is proof of the various options available to him. They played through the block, crossed at other times and latterly went on wave-after-wave of attacks.

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Ryan Kent and James Sands were not involved, neither was Steven Davis and Alfredo Morelos only for the final portion. A telling contribution from the bench was again made by Scott Arfield and Tom Lawrence.

Predicting van Bronckhorst’s line-up and tactics is as tricky a task as the manager himself faces in selecting from the talent at his disposal, each playing their way into consideration. How to move the various pieces and fit them into a system that both fires and flexes is a head-scratching scenario the coach has actively courted ahead of such a crucial two-legged play-off.

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Leon King came off the bench on Saturday, the 21st player used competitively in just five games this season, and replaced Ben Davies on his first start. Ryan Jack completed his first 90 minutes since February, and only Ianis Hagi, Filip Helander and Kemar Roofe remain out long-term injured.

Malik Tillman celebrates making it 1-0 with another header against St Johnstone. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
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“You want a squad like we have now, especially given all the competitions we are in,” van Bronckhorst said. Some are certainly out, others, like Tavernier, John Lundstram and Connor Goldson are certainly in.

After Tillman recreated his midweek header with a carbon copy to see off St Johnstone, he is another. A repeat will be welcome, but tougher to perform on Tuesday however there's often something special in the air on European nights at Ibrox, and now there’s Malik Tillman too.

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The opener sent Rangers on the way to a 4-0 win over the Perth side. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Young Rangers fans take part in the Malik Tillman Header Challenge ahead of Saturday's game. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)



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