Gerrard urges Rangers to up their game after narrow loss
Swede dreams: Steven Gerrard (pic: SNS Group)
Malmo 2 Rangers 1
Champions League qualifying, 3rd round
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard saw his side handed a late lifeline on a night that proved to be the first big test of the newly-crowned Scottish champions.
A stoppage-time goal from Steven Davis gives the Ibrox side renewed hope of overcoming Malmo in the return leg in Glasgow next Tuesday, though Gerrard says his players will need to up their game if they are to progress to the Champions League play-offs.
Away goals may no longer count in the qualifiers but Davis’ late strike has put a different complexion on the tie.
Gerrard will welcome back some of his first choice players after being forced to reshuffle his line-up for the clash in Sweden. Glen Kamara, Kemar Roofe and Leo Balogun were all serving suspensions.
Goalkeeper Allan McGregor returned as did defenders Borna Barisic and Filip Helander, while Scott Arfield and John Lundstram were added to the midfield and Cedric Itten to the attack.
The Swedes stormed into a two-goal lead shortly after the break and threatened to increase that advantage before the Davis’s timely intervention as the final whistle approached.
Under Gerrard, Rangers have an impressive European record at Ibrox and they’ll welcome Malmo to Govan more confident of overturning the deficit thanks to the late goal.
“We’re going to have to go up levels individually and collectively for next week,” said the Rangers boss.
“There are six or seven that need to raise their level and raise it sharply.
“We had two magnificent performances. Filip Helander, who I thought was outstanding, and Steven Davis.
“I’m running out of plaudits for Davo. He’s someone that doesn’t give up. He keeps going to the end and he’s someone that’s provided a real big moment that’s given us an important lifeline going into next week.
“It’s not the position we wanted to be in but it’s a lot better than going in at 2-0. We were also on the verge of it going worse as well.”
If Rangers can get past Malmo, they will play either Olympiakos or Ludogorets, who are level at 1-1 after the first leg of their third-round qualifier in Greece, for a place in the lucrative group stages of the Champions League.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Helander, Goldson, Barisic, Arfield, Davis, Lundstram, Wright, Itten (Sakala, 63), Kent.
Goals: Malmo – Rieks (47), Birmancevic (49); Rangers – Davis (95).