The wait for Alfredo Morelos to score his 100th Rangers goal goes on. Urged to sharpen up his act by Steven Gerrard the manager’s challenge didn’t have quite the effect desired.
Replaced by Fashion Sakala with 20 minutes to play the Colombian should have reached his century in a first half when Scotland’s champions revived hopes of Europa League progress. A player who blows hot and cold in front of goal, he’ll get there eventually.
It didn’t matter much in the end. A glorious chance to reach the landmark teed up the second Rangers goal of the night for Kemar Roofe with a little help from VAR after Leon Balogun headed the home team into the lead after 18 minutes.
Leon Balogun roars with delight after putting Rangers ahead during their win over Brondby
The centre back rose the highest to head home a cross to give Rangers a 1-0 lead
Balogun was promptly congratulated by his team-mates during their Europa League encounter
A comfortable victory in the end, the only mild regret for Rangers was the lack of more goals. Morelos smashed a shot against the upright before half time while substitute Scott Arfield hit the crossbar in the final 10 minutes.
While the margin of victory could have been wider Scotland’s champions look did enough to suggest they can travel to Copenhagen in two weeks and beating an average Brondby side for a second time.
A point behind Sparta Prague in Group A after the Czechs surrendered a two-goal lead against Lyon, second place is back in the mix. Third in the group and Europa Conference League football after Christmas now looks least of their ambitions.
After a low key start, Gerrard’s side eased into a two goal lead before half-time, prompted by the craft and excellence of Joe Aribo. Not for the first time this season they dropped off slightly in the second half, when Brondby’s lack of quality in front of goal proved a blessing..
There might have been more fight in a raucous support than there was in their team. The Rangers opener came from a corner after 18 minutes when James Tavernier was pelted by various objects by the visiting supporters.
His response was brutal, a terrific outswinging ball picking out the head of Leon Balogun. The Nigerian international got up easily above Morten Frendrup to head the ball into the net from 10 yards. For Rangers it was the first chance. For Balogun it was first competitive goal in light blue on a night curtailed by injury after the hour.
Before the game Steven Gerrard identified the visiting front two as their main danger. And before the half hour Mikael Uhre and Andrija Pavlovic combined to create – and miss – their only chance of the first half. Uhre took on Connor Goldson and made for the byeline on the left side, driving a cut back towards strike partner Pavlovic. The ball slightly behind him the number nine leaned back and ballooned the ball over the bar from 10 yards. It was a let off Rangers were quick to take advantage of.
There were 31 minutes on the clock when Joe Aribo scooped a cross towards the back post towards the head of Alfredo Morelos. Reminded of the need to do more in front of goal by Steven Gerrard the Colombian remains a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.
Kemar Roofe wheels away in celebration after doubling Rangers’ lead on the half-hour mark
The striker was mobbed by his team-mates as they finally got off the mark in Group A
Odds on to claim his elusive 100th goal for the club he headed straight at the keeper Thomas Mikkelsen when he really should have buried it. The drama continued when Kemar Roofe tapped in from three yards and the Rangers celebrations were curtailed by an offside flag.
At first glance replays seemed to show Roofe narrowly offside when Aribo crossed. After a long wait – and a long look – the video assistant referee decided the goal was valid. A still shot showed that Henrik Heggheim had played the striker on vby the length of a toe nail. The celebrations delayed by Big Brother, Rangers had a two goal cushion. Eventually.
It looked like a long night for the Danish champions now. Despite claiming their first title in 16 years last season Brondby have toiled in the new campaign, sitting sixth in the league – 13 points behind leaders Midtjylland – after 12 games.
They hit back twice from behind beat bottom club Velje for their third league victory at the weekend. Despite a decent record against Scottish teams in Europe – they’d knocked out Dundee United, Aberdeen and Hibs in the past – no one fancied them to repeat the feat in the second half.
Had Morelos squeezed a first time shot inside the post instead of striking the base on the half-time whistle Rangers would have been out of sight. Within seconds of the restart came a reminder of work to do yet.
Guilty of a slack, careless back pass Borna Barisic gifted Brondby their best chance of the game when he sent Uhre clean through on goal. While Allan McGregor deserves credit for racing from his line and closing down the target, the striker’s failure to hit the target was hard to explain. It seemed easier to score.
Rangers will point to a baffling failure to award them a penalty after 58 minutes. While VAR proved its failure for the second goal the reluctance to subject a clumsy late challenge from Sigurd Rosted on Aribo to a penalty check was hard to fathom. A much easier decision to get right than the Roofe goal, it was a clear spot kick.
The loss of opening goalscorer Balogun after 64 minutes was a worrying business. The central defender limped off clutching his hamstring and, with Filip Helander a long-term absentee, replacement Calvin Bassey – a left-back to trade – now looks odds on to play against St Mirren on Sunday.
While their defensive resources are stretched, they were rarely tested by a limited Brondby side. Imploring his team to score more goals, Steven Gerrard will rue missed opportunities in the final stages. Substitutes Scott Wright and Scott Arfield combined for the midfielder to smash a cut back against the crossbar. Offered a glorious chance to show Morelos how it’s done, replacement Fashion Sakala blew an excellent chance to add a third goal when through on goal.
In a far corner of Ibrox the Danish fans sang as if they had won the game. For Rangers fans in a crowd of 46,844 the night was one of quiet satisfaction after a job well done.