Malik Tillman international sparks Rangers comeback against Union Saint-Gilloise

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Rangers are one step away from the Champions League and what they will not unreasonably see as the completion of a redemption story after their financial implosion in 2012. Union Saint-Gilloise went into this second leg with two goals to their credit. They left Ibrox giddy. The Rangers advanced to the playoff round with svaberg. The prospect of both halves of the Old Firm playing in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2007-08 remains alive. PSV Eindhoven is between Rangers and their holy grail.

“The pressure was on us,” said the Rangers coach, Giovanni van Bronckhorst. – I am so proud of my players. They played with passion, fire and desire. It was a wonderful evening for all of us.”

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Last week’s display in Belgium had been pictured as Rangers’ poorest since Van Bronckhorst was appointed last November. Under Van Bronckhorst and his immediate predecessor, Steven Gerrard, Rangers have been formidable against foreign opposition. They were actually Europa League finalists in May.

Rangers opened the second leg in a manner that suggested they had a point to prove. Antonio Colak headed narrowly over from a James Tavernier free-kick. Yet in the first quarter of the game, Rangers had failed to mark their dominance with the opener. When Siebe Van der Heyden flicked a free header wide of the home goal, there were clear messages of concern from the packed Ibrox stands. USG, who hardly look like a side capable of troubling the cream of Europe, held firm. Colak was close to easing his frustrations. From a threatening free-kick from Tom Lawrence, the Croatian pulled off an acrobatic Anthony Moris save with a glancing header.

However, Colak’s two chances were the sum total of Rangers’ efforts in the first half before they were presented with the perfect opportunity from 12 yards. Van der Heyden was aggrieved, with a handball after Borna Barisic had floated a cross into the USG box. Van der Heyden completely missed the attempted header. Tavernier did what Tavernier does in such situations, to give Rangers decisive momentum at the interval.

Within 13 minutes of the restart it was tied. Colak could barely miss from across the yard after Moris had beaten Scott Arfield’s shot into the air. After USG appealed in vain for offside against Colak, Rangers knew they had more than enough time to complete a turnaround. As Moris saved smartly from John Lundstram, it felt a matter of when rather than if the hosts would score their third goal of the night. The USG appeared unable to initiate a response.

Brief – but only that – concern for Rangers followed. James Sands looked to be heading for an early bath after the referee gave him his second yellow card for a tackle on Dante Vanzeir. After consultation with one of his aides, the Greek official, Anastasios Sidiropoulos, reversed the decision. Sands survived. So did Rangers keeper Jon McLaughlin, who had put Sands in danger with a short pass.

Second-half goals from Rory Gaffney and Aidomo Emakhu ensured Shamrock Rovers’ place in the final round of Europa League qualification with victory away to Shkupi. Already holding a 3-1 lead from last week’s opening game, Rovers won 2-1 in North Macedonia to go 5-2 on aggregate and set up a meeting with Azerbaijan’s Qarabag. Gaffney scored on 65 minutes, his shot taking a deflection to beat the keeper before substitute Emakhu scored six minutes from time. On Sunday, Adetunji got a consolation at half-time. While the Europa League remains within reach, the win means Shamrock are at least assured of Europa Conference League football.

This moment of drama was soon forgotten. Moris was at fault after failing to clear a looping cross from Barisic that really shouldn’t have posed any danger. As Moris swung and missed, Malik Tillman picked the perfect spot to nod in his first Rangers goal. A three-goal lead for Van Bronckhorst’s men was fully deserved on the balance of play.

Alfredo Morelos, working his way back from a long-term injury, entered the game as Rangers kept their foot on the accelerator. The Rangers didn’t get a fourth, but they didn’t need one either. USG’s frustrations were summed up by Lazare Amani, whose half-time show of dissent earned the Ivorian a second booking. Verbal salvos were all the Belgians had left.

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