Saints, Dons disappoint
Rangers and Celtic fly flag for Scotland in Europe
Delight: Gary McAllister (pic: SNS Group)
Europa League play-offs, 2nd legs
Alashkert 0 Rangers 0 (agg: 0-1)
AZ Alkmaar 2 Celtic 1 (agg: 2-3)
Europa Conference League play-offs, 2nd legs
St Johnstone 0 LASK 2 (agg: 1-3)
Aberdeen 1 Qarabag 3 (agg: 1-4)
Rangers and Celtic will fly the flag for Scotland in Europe after a night of mixed fortunes for Premiership clubs.
The Old Firm rivals, who meet in the league at Ibrox on Sunday, secured passage to the Europa League group stages but there was disappointment for both St Johnstone and Aberdeen, who exited the Europa Conference League at the play-off stage.
Rangers shrugged off a Covid outbreak in their camp to get the result they needed in Armenia against hosts who played with 10 men for 50 minutes.
Missing self-isolating boss Steven Gerrard plus a number of first-team regulars, the Gers were not at their best but there will be few complaints after the goalless draw took them through to the group stages of Europe’s second-tier competition for the fourth season in a row.
With Gerrard following coronavirus protocols back home in Scotland, his assistant Gary McAllister took charge of things in Armenia and was delighted at full-time.
“The fact is we came here to do a job and we wanted to get through the tie and we’re in the draw for the group stages,” he said.
“We kept a clean sheet and bearing in mind we had loads of issues surrounding the squad we came together and we’re through. That’s all we wanted.
“To do it four years on the bounce, we’re delighted as a staff. But as an ex-player myself, it’s the players it’s brilliant for. For their kudos and CV, just to be in amongst it is great.
“Listen, it would have been better had it been the Champions League. But we’re in the Europa League group stages and it’s brilliant for the players. The nights at Ibrox are special.”
The squad are not due to arrive back in Glasgow until Friday afternoon, leaving precious little time to prepare for the Celtic clash.
“We will get the recovery right for everyone and then what a game – 50,000 fans at our ground against one of your biggest rivals,” added McAllister.
“These are the games you want to play in. Now we’ve jumped into the Europa League group stage, these games have a similar feel to them.
“We tried not to distract the players by looking ahead to the weekend but now we can start focusing on that.”
Rangers: McCrorie, Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Arfield, Kamara, Davis, Hagi (Itten, 64) Aribo, Morelos.
Special: Ange Postecoglou (pic: SNS Group)
It was also a productive night for Celtic, who survived a few scares in the Netherlands to book their place in the group phase.
The Hoops looked to be on course for a comfortable evening when Kyogo Furuhashi scored after just three minutes to put his side 3-0 ahead on aggregate.
However, an error from keeper Joe Hart and a bizarre own goal from Carl Starfelt, allowed the home side back into the tie before the break.
The signs were ominous for Ange Postecoglou’s side at that stage but Celtic showed their resolve in the second half, and with a touch of good fortune at times, saw the game out without conceding again.
“It means we’re going to be playing in one of the elite competitions against good quality opponents and ensuring there are some more special European nights this season,” said the Celtic boss.
“Joe was disappointed with the first-half mistake but then made a couple of outstanding saves. Carl defended really strongly in the second half. Mistakes are part of the nature of football but it’s how you react to them that’s important.”
Celtic: Hart; Taylor (Montgomery,24), Starfelt, Kyogo (Soro, 86), Abada, Turnbull, Christie, Rogic (Edouard, 60), McGregor, Ralston, Welsh.
Goals: AZ Alkmaar – Aboukhlal (6), Starfelt (og, 26); Celtic – Furuhashi (3)
Off: David Wotherspoon (pic: SNS Group)
Two red cards in the space of seven second-half minutes shattered St Johnstone’s dreams of reaching the group stages of the Conference League.
Trailing 2-1 on aggregate against LASK in Perth, the hosts were dealt a major blow when David Wotherspoon was dismissed within a minute of coming on for lashing out with an elbow. A tough task became well nigh impossible when Shaun Rooney was given a second yellow for bringing down Balic in the box, Raguz converting the penalty six minutes from time.
“I thought for 70 minutes of the game the players were phenomenal,” said boss Callum Davidson.
“They were performing against a team who have played at a high level for the past couple of seasons.
“David Wotherspoon’s sending off ruined the tie for us completely. It’s unlike David. It is frustrating every time you get a player sent off and it is difficult to deal with. But I would rather talk about my players and their performance than the sending off. I am very proud of them.
“You look at the resources that LASK have compared to us, but we saw our team spirit.
“We have competed against two top teams in Europe and we nearly got through.
“It has given them a taste of European football and I said to them: ‘Let’s make sure we get that again’. It was a great atmosphere and the fans were brilliant as they were against Galatasaray. That is what you want at St Johnstone.
“We will refocus straight away and we will move on.”
St Johnstone: Clark, Rooney, Kerr, McCart, Brown (Wotherspoon,75), McCann (Gilmour, 90), Davidson, Middleton (Craig, 88), Booth (Devine 88), O’Halloran, Kane (May, 88).
Goals: LASK – Balic (72), Raguz (pen, 84).
Out: Stephen Glass (pic: SNS Group)
Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass had a night to forget at Pittodrie as he watched his Dons side bundled out of Europe.
Qarabag arrived with a one-goal advantage from the first leg and soon added to their lead with Bayramov and Malinowski netting in the first 20 minutes to effectively kill the game as a contest.
The experienced Euro campaigners went further ahead when Zoubir scored after 72 minutes, Lewis Ferguson’s stoppage time consolation from the penalty spot doing little to lift the mood in the home camp.
“We played against a better team tonight,” said Glass. “After a decent start, we were right in it and they score a goal out of nothing, then we’re chasing the game against a really good team.
“We still give the ball away a bit cheaply at times. We’re not as dangerous as we would like to be at the top end.”
Aberdeen: Lewis, Ramsay, Gallagher, McCrorie, MacKenzie, Jenks (Emmanuel-Thomas, 46), Brown, Ferguson, Ojo, Ramirez (Campbell, 82) Hayes (McGinn 75).
Goals: Aberdeen – Ferguson (pen, 92); Qarabag – Bayramov (8), Malinowski (18), Zoubir (72).