A firm alliance as bordering on love affair between Steven Gerrard, Rangers and the Europa League will continue into another group phase. On an evening where nothing could be considered in isolation – Celtic won their play-off match, 1-0 in Sarajevo, before the full-time whistle blew in Ibrox – the Glasgow clubs were afforded an identical and welcome Uefa payout. They will also joust – one assumes – for the Scottish Premiership whilst mutually engaged in alternative warfare.
Gerrard had no cause to care, in the short term at least, about a bigger picture. A forceful second half from his team saw Galatasaray swatted aside in a manner which emphasised how good Rangers can be. Gerrard has now presided over 19 Europa League qualifying matches whilst yet to sample defeat. This time, Scott Arfield and James Tavernier secured a fully deserved Rangers victory. Galatasaray ultimately did nothing to dissuade any onlooker from thoughts of faded grandeur; Marcão’s late goal proved a consolation. Anything more would have been an unfair reflection on proceedings.
It might be an exaggeration to suggest Europe has delivered salvation for Gerrard during more than two years in charge at Ibrox. Nonetheless, the Europa League has seen a series of high points for Rangers despite failure to win a single domestic trophy under Gerrard’s guidance. In the eyes of many supporters, the re-establishment of Rangers as a team worthy of at least moderate respect from beyond Scotland offsets the ex-Liverpool captain’s inability to return silverware. That debate is of the non-binary variety.
Any sense that Galatasaray may not be entirely enthused by the second tier of European club football as the backdrop to trying to reinforce some form of domestic grip was dismissed by the deployment of a strong starting XI. The Turkish side were without the influential Arda Turan, who didn’t travel to Glasgow due to illness. Radamel Falcao started in attack, as supported by the effervescent Ryan Babel.
A cagey but entertaining opening was notable only for Conor Goldson’s header, as crucially headed over the visiting crossbar by Christian Luyindama. In response, Babel sent over a delightful 19th minute cross with which Sofiane Feghouli couldn’t properly connect. Galatasaray’s aggression was a notable feature of the first half. So, too, penalty claims for handball by each team which even in this fevered spell as attached to that particular law were denied.
It seemed poetic if inevitable that Ianis Hagi, of whom it is fair to say doubt has been cast since a permanent move to Ibrox during the summer, was involved in the breakthrough goal. Hagi, son of the great Gheorghe, is a self-confessed Galatasaray supporter having been born during his father’s fruitful spell at the Turkish club.
Tavernier started a fine move as resulted in a Hagi flick to the feet of Arfield. Alfredo Morelos, hitherto unimpressive, smartly pulled defenders out of position as Arfield exploited the space. The midfielder’s finish was clinical.
By the hour mark, the hosts were two ahead. A spell of possession as started in the Rangers centre-back position resulted in a deflected and looping Borna Barisic cross. Tavernier leapt above Martin Linnes to head home. This marked a seventh goal in as many games for the Rangers captain and right-back.
Morelos should have extinguished any remaining hope as harboured by Fatih Terim’s team with nine minutes left, but instead side-footed wide from a Tavernier cross. Gerrard and Terim subsequently exchanged heated words, with the Rangers manager visibly unhappy at the conduct of the Galatasaray coaching staff.
Gerrard was soon even more irked. Marcão planted a terrific header beyond the reach of Allan McGregor from a corner. The Rangers goalkeeper had nothing to do thereafter, as rather summed up the second period. Gerrard, who entered deep celebration, secured yet another scalp.