Morelos on the mark to rescue 10-man Rangers
Goal: Alfredo Morelos (pic: SNS Group)
Rangers 1 Alashkert 0
Europa League play-off, 1st leg
Alfredo Morelos rescued 10-man Rangers on a frustrating night for Steven Gerrard’s men as they were forced to dig deep to stay on course for the group stages.
The Scottish champions would have been hoping to take a bigger lead to Armenia for the second leg but instead had to settle for the slimmest of margins after playing the entire second half with 10 men.
John Lundstram’s two yellow cards in the opening period forced a change of plan for Gerrard, who will have been relieved just to have won the match in the circumstances.
Morelos’ strike after 67 minutes after being put through on goal by James Tavernier was just reward for a good second-half performance from the home side.
While the Armenians posed little threat in attack, they could prove to be a different proposition with home advantage next week.
The Light Blues were left with red faces during the game when it emerged that Ryan Kent was wearing the wrong match-day kit.
The midfielder was the victim of an embarrassing kit blunder after wearing a top with the wrong kit sponsor on the front.
Kent, who was replaced at half-time, played the first 45 minutes with the 32Red sponsor while his team-mates all wore Unibet on their shirts.
Kit confusion: Ryan Kent.
Both 32Red and Unibet are gambling brands owned by the Kindred Group, the same parent company. The Unibet logo was agreed to be displayed on all Rangers kits used in European competition this season as well as on the third kit in domestic matches.
There will be an internal investigation as to how this was allowed to happen and why nobody in the Rangers camp noticed it prior to kick-off. It remains to be seen if UEFA will take any action.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Bassey, Davis, Lundstram, Aribo (Arfield 82), Morelos (Itten 84), Hagi (Kelly 90), Kent (Wright 46).
Goals: Rangers – Morelos (67)
LASK 1 St Johnstone 1
Europa Conference League play-off, 1st leg
St Johnstone are within touching distance of a European windfall after another superb display on foreign soil.
The Perth Saints pushed Turkish giants Galatasaray all the way before exiting the Europe League qualifiers last week.
They showed their mettle in Austria this time, withstanding late pressure from LASK to earn a share of the spoils in the first leg of their Europa Conference League play-off.
Chris Kane put the visitors ahead in the first half and it took a penalty for the hosts on the hour mark to level things up.
The result is another example of St Johnstone’s growing maturity on the European stage, LASK having made it to the Europa League group stages last season and reaching the last 16 in 2020.
If they can complete the job at McDiarmid Park next week, Saints stand to net €2,940,000 (£2.5m) and they would also pocket €500,000 (£425,000) for every win, with a draw earning teams €166,000 (£140,000).
“To qualify for this league is probably as big a game financially as St Johnstone have had in their history,” said boss Callum Davidson, who guided his side to an historic cup double last season.
Praise: Callum Davidson (pic: SNS Group).
“It’s an enormous game. It’s probably up a notch from the Galatasaray game last week. It’s a 90-minute game to get European football until December. We are talking about St Johnstone here. If we manage to do that it’s phenomenal.”
You have to go back to 1971-72 to find the last time Saints made any impression in Europe when they reached the third round of the UEFA Cup.
“If you told me we would go away to LASK, with their European pedigree, and get a draw to take back to McDiarmid Park and give ourselves a chance to qualify I would have taken it,” added Davidson.
“I know what they can do, I know what they can achieve. They follow the game plan and they were brilliant. Their work rate was unbelievable.
“The people of Perth have missed out on two cup finals last season, and this is a cup final for us on Thursday. It’s the biggest game we have had since May 22.”
St Johnstone: Clark, Kerr, Gordon, McCart, Rooney, McCann, Davidson, Middleton, Booth, O’Halloran (Hendry, 90), Kane (May, 87).
Goals: LASK – Karamoko (pen 60); St Johnstone – Kane (17).
Unhappy: Stephen Glass (pic: SNS Group).
Qarabag FK 1 Aberdeen 0
Europa Conference League play-off, 1st leg
Tofiq Bakhramov Stadium
Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass faces an anxious wait to see if Andrew Considine has suffered a serious injury during his side’s narrow loss in Azerbaijan.
The centre-half was stretchered off in agony after landing awkwardly from an aerial challenge early in the first half, his manager convinced the poor surface having played a major part in the defender’s injury.
“I said before the game I didn’t want to use the pitch as an excuse,” said Glass. “I deliberately didn’t want to talk about it at that point and I didn’t want to detract from the fact that Qarabag are a good team.
“But we’ve seen the reality of it there, it was a disgrace, and it probably resulted in Andy getting injured which is a terrible thing to see happen at this level.
“The game shouldn’t be played on a pitch like that, both teams deserve better. It was a game between two good teams, with good footballers on both sides, and they weren’t given the surface to show their best.”
Romero Jaime scored the only goal of the game for the home side after 30 minutes but while they lost the match, the Dons are very much still in the tie but will have to improve dramatically if they are to overturn the deficit at Pittodrie next Thursday.
Aberdeen: Lewis, McCrorie, Gallagher, Considine (Hayes, 14), Ramsey, Brown, Ferguson, MacKenzie, Emmanuel-Thomas (McLennan, 46), Ramirez, Ojo.
Goals: Qarabag – Romero (30).