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Lone Rangers: Grit and desire not enough as Ljubicic’s late strike ends hopes of knockout berth

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Roar Rookie
14th December, 2018
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Joyous hugging and sheer excitement, turned pitch invasions. A sight Steven Gerrard is used to seeing.

The now Rangers manager recently eulogised Jurgen Klopp’s reaction to a derby winner. Here however, he would have wished there were little Austrian celebrations.

At the final whistle, the expression on Gerrard’s face looked colder than the Viennese night, staring into the abyss after a disappointing finish in the capital.

Substitute Dejan Ljubicic pounced on a woeful clearance from goalkeeper Alan McGregor, before a lovely interchange with Christoph Knasmullner, before cooling sliding the ball into the back of the net.

The 2000 Rangers fans in the ground and 8000 in Vienna’s bars were devastated. Their European journey over before the New Year.

Needing a win, Rangers too often failed to create anything of note against Rapid Wien, continuing their dismal run on the continent. The Glasgow side have lost 19 of their last 20 away matches in all European competitions.

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All at Ibrox will be exasperated at failure to qualify for the round of 32, however once the dust settles, they will be able to see the transformation undertaken before their eyes.

Just over twelve months ago, they had been embarrassingly bundled out of qualifying by European minnows FC Progrès Niederkorn. Tonight was a far cry from that catastrophic evening in south-west Luxembourg.

This was a club not so long ago which almost ceased to exist, With Gerrard at the helm, ‘Gers are on the up and there is little doubt where his ambitions lie.

“To compete at this level, with ambitions to go further than the group, it’s obvious to me that the players need some help. That means quality players.”

Rangers are not the finished article by any means, yet there is still so much to be proud of. Two defeats in a group consisting of Villarreal, Spartak Moscow and Rapid Wien, indeed a noteworthy achievement.

This was only the second time the Westadion had sold out since its opening in 2016. With a capacity of just under 24000 it felt like there was 50000 and then some. A thunderous atmosphere was the soundtrack from a sleep-provoking first half.

Incredibly, in a game with such great permutations, there were no shots on target in the opening fourty-five. Rangers came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock.

In the twentieth minute, Rangers were presented with a glorious opportunity. A free kick just outside the box was floated in by James Tavernier, only for Connor Goldson to rise above them all.

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His bullet header cannoned back off the crossbar to Austrian safety. With the keeper rooted to the spot, there was the opening they had craved. Such an opportunity never knocked again.

Rapid Wien were outplayed in most areas for the entirety of the match. Content to sit back and protect their clean sheet, it was obvious Rangers would have to show impetus.

Their desire could not be questioned, however their creativity could be. Rangers found some fluency to their play at times, in thanks to Kyle Middleton. The young 18-year-old winger provided Rapid with all sorts of problems down the lefthand side.

However, such moments of control and Viennese fear was fleeting. Even when in promising positions, Rangers struggled to find that final ball to unlock a stout Rapid defence.

It is no wonder that Gerrard has urged those above to spend in January. Without the injured Ryan Kent and ‘unsettled’ Ovie Ejaria, Rangers looked devoid of creativity.

Lassana Coulibaly surged forth on a promising counter-attack, before playing a dreadful pass toward Glenn Middleton. Leaving his Scouse boss in a rage. Providing a microcosm for Rangers’ problems.

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As the game reached its closing moments, you just wondered whether Rangers’ sheer might may have dragged the ball into the net.

However, it was another moment of inconsistency which cost them dearly. On a cold day in Motherwell it may not.

Gerrard admitted his side were right to feel a little hard done by. “We could’ve put ourselves in a better position but it wasn’t to be.

“If you analyse the whole journey the players have done fantastically well but the reality is that at this level we fell a bit short. It’s my job to try to address that.”

The reality is what Steven Gerrard lives in. This is why Rangers fans have fallen in love with him.

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It was eight torturous years ago ‘Gers were last in the Europa League, a long time coming. One has a feeling those in Glaswegian blue won’t have to wait so long again.