Craig Fowler gives his take as Rangers move top of Group G with a comeback victory over Rapid Vienna.
A very different Rangers showed up on Thursday night
This was everything that the Livingston match wasn’t: intensity, discipline, defensive solidity, urgency and a clear attacking strategy. The second half in particular showed what Rangers can be, and makes it all the more puzzling when they put in the type of showing everyone witnessed just four days prior. There did seem to be a little bit of a West Lothian hangover in the opening period. Attackers were either picking the wrong option or taking a poor touch too often. But after Alfredo Morelos’ slid in the equaliser, it only looked like Rangers who’d go on to win this one.
Gerrard went back to his most successful system
After changing to a narrow 4-4-2 for Sunday’s trip to Livingston (and surely regretting it) Steven Gerrard moved back to the 4-3-3 for the Vienna clash. The Rangers boss has experimented with his side so far this season, but this appears to be the system that gets the best out of the players at his disposal. Just like the 5-1 win over St Johnstone, Ryan Kent and Daniel Candeias flanked Morelos on the wings. Although, on this occasion, they were utilised more as traditional wingers, rather than supporting strikers as they were in the Saints victory. It spoke to the threat posed by Vienna and how each player had to concentrate just as intently on his defensive duties as his attacking ones. With Morelos a little isolated at times in the first half, it was a balancing act the hosts had to get right, but it would all come into place.
Tavernier’s crossing was a constant menace
The one negative may be that, for all Rangers’ pressure, they didn’t really create a clear-cut chance from open play from anything other than a James Tavernier cross - at least not until Candeias provided a sumptuous backheel assist in the final seconds. Then again, that may not be much of a problem when such a avenue provides good opportunities throughout the 90 minutes. Kent and midfielder Ovie Ejaria played significant roles in the home side dominating the territorial battle, especially after the break, but when it came to making the incision, it was Tavernier stepping up time and again.
Public perception may have immediately turned on Worrall
Fans were unsure about the Nottingham Forest defender, especially after a shaky showing in Sunday’s defeat Livingston, and wondered whether Gerrard had needlessly broken up the Connor Goldson-Nikola Katic partnership that had looked so strong earlier in the season. It’s safe to say those fears have been placed firmly on the back burner after this victory. Worrall was often the last line of defence, appearing at the vital moment to cut out any danger which threatened the hosts’ penalty box.
Now comes the hard part
Rangers have to keep this momentum going, starting with the visit of Hearts on Sunday. It’s often the case that after such a emotional European night, both fans and players can be a little subdued when it comes to the weekly grind of domestic football. However, with Hearts top of the league and absolutely flying in the SPFL to this point, Gerrard’s men cannot take this game lightly. Many had wondered whether, given the poor start to the league season, the manager would maybe rest a couple of players for the Vienna clash. He chose not to do so and will either trust on the vast majority of these players to run through any tiredness, or for those waiting in the wings (Kyle Lafferty, Borna Barisic, Eros Grezda etc) to take inspiration from Thursday’s performance and make the most of their chance.