Reluctant Rangers give Michael Beale form of salvation: Players' grumbles with each other turn to cheers as Jack Butland shines again

A tonne weight will feel as if it has lifted from Michael Beale courtesy of his side’s 1-0 victory of Real Betis in the club’s Europa League opener. Especially in watching the scenes at the final whistle.

The spectre of no statement wins across his 10 months in charge was invoked in the build-up. So too was the fact his team were returning to Ibrox for the first time since the loss to Celtic little over a fortnight ago. An outcome so egregious to the fanbase, they turned on their players as they sought to acknowledge them at the end and set about demanding manager Beale be bagged in all manner of public forums for days afterwards.

A certain peace seemed to be made between Beale’s squad and their faithful as they were applauded as they made way round the pitch after an encounter they somehow edged without any great glamour about their display. Indeed, it was a performance that produced a 68th-minute winner firmly in keeping with meagre rations of quality served up by either of the combatants. A James Tavernier corner proved the catalyst for the ball becoming a bouncing bomb in the box. Initially a Sam Lammers header back across goal found Kemar Roofe, whose shot on the turn drew a spectacular one-handed save from Claudio Bravo. A stramsh ensued before, galloping on to the loose ball, Abdallah Sima bundled the ball over the line with Ben Davies attempting to do the same.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Rangers becoming the aggressors, the difference-makers, wasn’t a scenario that looked likely an hour earlier. The frantic gesturing of Beale to his players throughout the early stages of the first half betrayed the general tone of an otherwise, largely colourless occasion. Too often, the Englishman proved more animated than any of his players. And indeed those situated in the stands, where what transmitted to the pitch was an edginess.

Abdallah Sima flies in to score Rangers' winner against Real Betis at Ibrox.Abdallah Sima flies in to score Rangers' winner against Real Betis at Ibrox.
Abdallah Sima flies in to score Rangers' winner against Real Betis at Ibrox.

Borne of the team’s recent travails, the mood was not helped by Rabbi Matondo, after burning Hector Bellerin for pace to find himself one-on-one with Claudio Bravo, blew a glorious opportunity by tamely shooting straight at the keeper.

From there, without producing anything dazzling, Betis began to dominate as Rangers appeared gripped by the lethargy that has stalked them throughout this troubled campaign. Narking evident between Matondo and Borna Barisic and Connor Goldson and James Tavernier betrayed their ill-ease. As did Jack Butland being required to make a smart save after Betis sliced them open through the middle.

Just about half an hour in, though, Rangers seemed to have a lightbulb moment to escape the gloom that threatened to cloak them. Jose Cifuentes, hitherto slack in possession, started to find his range with passes, Tom Lawrence began to get a foot on the ball, and Rangers – shock, horror – were able to exert pressure on the Spaniards’ backline. It was as if they suddenly realised they were allowed, and able, to engage in the contest.

They started the second period exhibiting similar bustle, and the effect was to have Manuel Pellegrini’s side to appear short on ideas or impetus. A curling Barisic free-kick pushed on to the crossbar by Bravo as the Ibrox men sensed there could be something in the evening for them.

It came in the most messy fashion imaginable with Sima’s 68th minute deadlock-breaker, but this was the moment to light up the home crowd, who roused themselves in noisy fashion finally to make the evening seem like a European night at Ibrox of the sort witnessed so often in recent years. This meant feline-like feats of goalkeeping brilliance to preserve the scoreline as was de riguer for Allan McGregor. Butland seems a worthy successor, and produced two stunning stops to secure a win that will feel like a form of salvation.