Given nothing attached to the Old Firm can be viewed in isolation, it was impossible to ignore a sense of redemption as Rangers – eventually-wandered into the Europa League’s last 32. The harrowing circumstances of a League Cup final defeat to Celtic just days earlier was – briefly at least- forgotten as Steven Gerrard delivered yet another indicator of progress at Ibrox. This marks the first time since season 2010/11 that Rangers have featured in Europe beyond Christmas. If ending Celtic’s domestic stranglehold is key to perceptions of Gerrard’s tenure, delivering returns on other fronts is wholly welcome, not least from a financial perspective.
Rangers couldn’t prevail over Young Boys, with Borna Barisic’s messy 89th-minute own goal sufficient to ensure more than a few anxious moments fort hose in light blue. When a point would do; Rangers claimed one. Just.
It was poetic that earlier Alfredo Morelos, the headline-maker for all the wrong reasons in that League Cup loss, sent his team towards qualification.Morelos has now notched 14 times in Europe this season.
The only negative for Gerrard aside from Barisic dribbling the ball over his own line was a stoppage-time red card for Ryan Jack, who has emerged as his midfield enforcer, which means he will miss the first leg of Rangers’last-32 tie. Even Jack’s earlier booking had meant such a suspension.
That all four teams had scope to earn the two qualification spots from Group G before the final matches kicked off said plenty for the competitive nature of this section. Whether that correlates to quality is up for debate. Yet in Rangers’ case it is undeniable some of their finest performances of this season have come against foreign opposition.
The hosts opened as if they were not content to take the point that would have sealed progression to the last 32. Generally, though, this did not correlate to chances until an 19th-minute Scott Arfield opportunity which was deflected wide by Christopher Pereira. Young Boys’ tepid approach to the first 20 minutes was odd given they most likely needed victory to emerge from the group.
Morelos, seeking to atone for a clutch of missed opportunities on Sunday, should have handed Rangers the lead within two minutes of Arfield’s chance. Instead the Colombian shot straight at David von Ballmoos after being sent through on goal by Joe Aribo. Morelos appealed in vain for a penalty moments later after tumbling under the challenge of Frederik Sørensen.
The role of Sørensen when the deadlock was ended was considerably less impressive. Ryan Kent lobbed a hopeful pass in the general direction of Morelos, with the Young Boys centre-back in the perfect position to clear. Instead Sørensen half-heartedly kicked the ball against his opponent, allowing Morelos to bear down on goal. This time the marksman made no mistake. If the goal was comically bad from Young Boys’ point of view,it was crucial for Rangers.
Gerrard’s men, roused by their breakthrough and their opposition’s glaring limitations, chased a second goal before the interval and came close to securing one. Aribo headed narrowly wide from a terrific Borna Barisic cross. The Swiss offered nothing whatsoever by way of retaliation until the dying seconds of the half,when Christian Fassnacht headed over Allan McGregor’s crossbar.
Morelos had Sørensen grasping for air again within three minutes of the restart. Smart work by Von Ballmoos in narrowing the forward’s angle meant the Young Boys goalkeeper could force a corner. Earlier Morelos had easily outpaced Sørensen on the Rangers right flank. It took 65 minutes for Young Boys to seriously trouble McGregor. This time the veteran goalkeeper produced acrobatics to tip Fassnacht’s header over.
McGregor’s save arrived in the midst of Young Boys’ most threatening spell of the evening. They hadn’t quite run their race before Barisic’s error, which ultimately mattered not. An exhausted Rangers saw it through.