Rejigged Rangers splutter at Ibrox as embarrassment averted in cup against gallant Morton

Michael Beale would surely have craved a more straightforward afternoon given what’s up ahead, but at least his Rangers team are in the hat for the Viaplay quarter-finals after getting a fright against Morton at Ibrox.
Danilo celebrates what turned out to be the winner against Morton.Danilo celebrates what turned out to be the winner against Morton.
Danilo celebrates what turned out to be the winner against Morton.

What appeared on paper to be a reasonable assignment for Rangers turned into a tricky affair against their visitors from the Championship, who brought a sizeable away support, played with courage and, at times, conviction before gallantly falling on their sword, losing 2-1 to their far more illustrious opponents. The Greenock outfit briefly led at the start of the second half but like a horse that gets spooked when it hits the front, Morton fell apart just when it looked like a shock was on the cards.

Grant Gillespie’s 53rd-minute penalty, awarded via VAR, was cancelled out pretty swiftly seven minutes later by Cyriel Dessers’ own spot-kick – also on the recommendation of VAR – before substitute Danilo fired in what to proved to be the winner on 68 minutes. Manager Beale had made eight changes to his Rangers starting XI, clearly with one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League play-off first leg against PSV, and while the calibre of his player should have been too strong for Dougie Imrie’s second-tier men, the reality was different. As a team, Rangers just did not gel properly.

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Summer signing Dujon Sterling started for the first time at right-back and overcooked his crosses, on the opposite flank Johnly Yfeko made his debut and the whole forward line was reconfigured. Rabbi Matondo was given a rare nod from the off and his pace, if not his end product, caused Morton problems. But the biggest issue for Rangers remains at the back, where they still give up too many chances and make too many errors.

Morton briefly led thanks to Grant Gillespie's penalty.Morton briefly led thanks to Grant Gillespie's penalty.
Morton briefly led thanks to Grant Gillespie's penalty.

It is worth noting that had Morton goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, now 37, not been at the top of his game, then the scoreline would have taken a more comprehensive complexion. The former Hearts stopper made four excellent saves, the most notable being a magnificent sprawling dive to deny Kieran Dowell a goal from a free-kick right on the stroke of half time to maintain hope for the Ton.

Eight minutes into the second half, they had their moment. Rangers failed to clear a corner and Kirk Broadfoot, returning to his old stomping ground, got his foot in front of Dessers as he slashed at the ball, you knew Rangers could be in trouble. Referee David Dickinson was advised to go to the monitor by VAR Gavin Duncan and a penalty was awarded. Captain Gillespie sent Jack Butland the wrong way and his own fans into a state of ecstasy.

It will therefore hurt more that they were completely unable to repel Rangers’ riposte. Broadfoot stupidly sinned by tugging Leon Balogun’s shirt on the hour-mark and the eagle-eyed VAR spotted it. Dickinson again awarded a penalty and Danilo sent MacDonald the wrong way. Eight minutes later, Dessers robbed Gillespie in midfield, fed Danilo and the Brazilian cut past Calum Waters and slotted under MacDonald to put Rangers 2-1 up. It was all too easy.

MacDonald’s heroics denied Rangers a third and while Morton’s best chance of a leveller came right at the death, when George Oakley looked set to pull the trigger when through on goal, only for Yfeko to put a goal-saving tackle. The 20-year-old’s intervention spared his team extra time and more grumbles from the 37,000 Rangers fans in attendance, who were hardly enthused by this trying afternoon.

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