Rangers net seeded berth and £1.4m jackpot
Top: Steven Gerrard (pic: SNS Group)
Lech Poznan 0 Rangers 2
As far as European campaigns go, this has been near perfect for Rangers boss Steven Gerrard.
He guided them into the knockout stages with a game to spare and the stress-free win in Poland saw the Ibrox finish as winners of Group D above highly-rated Benfica.
Rangers amassed an impressive 14 points from a possible 18, gathering seven points at home and on their travels – the highest total for any Scottish club in a European group stage.
That achievement means they enter Monday’s last 32 draw as one of the seeds, thus avoiding any of the teams dropping out of the Champions League qualifiers.
Significantly, too, first place in the group also brought a £900,000 reward on top of the £515,000 prize for qualifying, money which Gerrard will be hoping will help him strengthen his squad in January.
Goals in each half from Cedric Itten and Ianis Hagi completed a comfortable victory for the Light Blues, despite seven changes to the starting XI.
“We are looking forward to the draw on Monday,” said Gerrard. “We will need a bit of luck, of course we will. But when Europe comes around again in February time we will hopefully have a fit squad and if we do we will be a challenge for whoever we face.”
The Gers are now unbeaten in their last 26 matches in all competitions this season – with an equally impressive 20 clean sheets.
Given their recent form, it would be a foolish person who bets on the run ending any time soon.
Rangers: McLaughlin, Patterson, Balogun, Goldson, Barisic, Zungu, Kamara, Aribo, Arfield, Hagi, Itten.
Other Group D result: Standard Liege 2 Benfica 2.
Brighter Celtic lift Parkhead gloom
Match-winner: David Turnbull (pic: SNS Group)
Celtic 3 Lille 2
It surely wouldn’t have been long after the final whistle sounded on Celtic’s first group win before Neil Lennon’s thoughts turned to domestic action.
The victory, only the third in 13 matches, was a much-needed result for the under-pressure Parkhead boss.
The Celtic boss will be hoping that a first win in six home matches will provide the spark needed to ignite a run of form.
Already out of Europe before this evening’s clash after a dreadful campaign, it’s closer to home where Lennon must address his side’s failings.
The quest for an historic 10 league championships in a row appears to be taking its toll on the Hoops. They entertain Kilmarnock on Sunday afternoon after league leaders Rangers face Dundee United at Tannadice where a win would see Steven Gerrard’s side move 16 points ahead of their arch-rivals, having played three games more.
The bid for a remarkable ‘quadruple treble’ also reaches its climax this month with the delayed Scottish Cup Final against Hearts five days before Christmas.
Lennon will take any crumb of comfort at the moment and the win over the French side at least gives the Northern Irishman something positive to build on.
His young, much-changed side, produced the goods on the night with David Turnbull netting the winner 15 minutes from time. Christopher Jullien and Callum McGregor (penalty) were the other scorers for the home side.
Lille slipped to second in the group behind AC Milan and could now face seeded Rangers in the last 32.
“We’ve probably deserved a little bit better out of the group but it’s a great way to finish on a high against a very good side,” said Lennon.
“There was a lot of good energy out there, three goals at home, a really competitive game for this stage of the competition so I think it’s been well worth it.”
Celtic: Hazard, Jullien, Ajer (Welsh), Duffy, Laxalt, Frimpong (Henderson), Soro, McGregor, Elyounoussi, Turnbull (Rogic), Klimala (Ajeti).
Other Group H result: Sparta Prague 0 AC Milan 1.