Ibrox feelgood factor puts Rangers in Old Firm driving seat
Comfortable: Alfredo Morelos nets Rangers’ third (pic: SNS Group)
Rangers 3 FC Midtjylland 1 (agg: 7-3)
3rd qualifying round, 2nd leg
Rangers have played second fiddle to their Old Firm rivals for so long that another title and even another treble being secured by Celtic has been taken by many in the game as a given.
This result, a convincing aggregate win over a decent Danish team, may give pundits and the Ibrox club itself reason to believe that the bragging rights could be swinging back towards Ibrox.
With Celtic licking their wounds following a bruising exit from the Champions League, the blue half of Glasgow have their tails up. Confidence is oozing through Steven Gerrard’s team and the club topped a night of European success by confirming the signing of Welsh international Andy King. That he comes on a season-long loan from Leicester City, managed by former Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, adds another twist in the tale.
The opportunity to get Andy King came up in the last 24 hours and I jumped at the chance– Steven Gerrard
King is Gerrard’s 10th signing of a hectic transfer window for Rangers, the 30-year-old joining Steven Davis, Jordan Jones, Jake Hastie, Greg Stewart, Sheyi Ojo, George Edmundson, Joe Aribo, Filip Helander and Brandon Barker in a new-look team that fancies its chances of toppling Celtic’s eight-year dominance of domestic football.
King was in the stands to watch his new team-mates ease past Midtjylland to set up a tough play-off against Legia Warsaw. He has appeared 378 times for Leicester, scoring 62 times as well as winning the League One, Championship and Premier League titles in the Foxes colours. He also featured for his country in the Euro 2016 semi-final. His Rangers debut is likely to be in less glamorous surroundings when the team travel to East Fife on Sunday in the Scottish League Cup.
Gerrard, who appears to be getting the freedom to operate without concerning himself with the club’s ongoing financial battles, is delighted to get a player who may prove a lynchpin in his reshaped team. “The opportunity to get Andy King came up in the last 24 hours and I jumped at the chance for numerous reasons,” he said. “He is a winner.”
The air of optimism at Ibrox is evident in a style of play which has seen them scoring for fun. Last night’s contest was over in 49 minutes after Alfedo Morelos added a third goal to his first half strike and another from Sheyi Ojo to put the Gers in cruise control. Evander Ferreira scored a consolation for the visitors 18 minutes from time.
Negotiating the Legia Warsaw tie will be a true test. The Poles will be favourites over the two legs but it will take a brave man to bet against Gerrard taking his team into the group stages for the second season running.
The feel-good factor flowing through Ibrox at the moment is in stark contrast to the clouds of concern gathering across the city at rivals Celtic.
The Scottish champions had enjoyed a blistering start to their bid for nine-in-a-row, hammering seven goals past St Johnstone before netting another five at Motherwell.
However, the shock loss to Cluj in the third qualifying round of the Champions League has knocked the wind out of their sails.
It will certainly have dented Lennon’s spending power going forward but of more concern for Celtic fans will be the upcoming Europa League play-off against Swedes AIK.
Should they defend as poorly in that tie as they did against the Romanians, then there is every chance they could be out of Europe before they know it.
Added intrigue comes with the season’s first league meeting of the two Glasgow sides on 1 September. This season’s title race is already shaping up to be the most interesting in years.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, Jack (Docherty), Kamara, Davis, Arfield, Ojo (Jones), Morelos (Defoe).
Goals: Rangers – Morelos (14, 49), Ojo (39); FC Midtjylland – Ferreira (72).
It was a dreadful night for Aberdeen at Pittodrie as they crashed out of the Europa League 4-0 on aggregate to Rijeka.
The Dons had been attempting to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in Croatia but were already a goal behind when Funso Ojo was dismissed for a second yellow card after just 20 minutes.
The visitors netted a second before the interval to kill off any hopes of a recovery by Derek McInnes’ side.
Additional reporting by Terry Murden