Rangers began their 2017 season tonight in a Europa League qualifier at home to Progres Niederkorn. Niederkorn are from Luxemburg who finished 4th in their league last season. This was Rangers’ first time in a European completion since 2011. Niederkorn are no strangers to European football themselves. But unlike Rangers, they have never won a European game. Also in their 15 plus European games, they have scored just one goal. This was something they were hoping to put an end to tonight.
Rangers, on the other hand, were looking to start a fresh after finishing a disappointing 3rd in the SPL last season. They also finished 39 points behind rivals Celtic. Manager Pedro Caixinha clearly took this as a sign that his team wasn’t good enough. He, therefore, decided to have a huge overhaul of players with three of his new signings starting tonight.
The first half began much the same way it ended, with Rangers dominating. The Scottish side dominated the first 15 minutes with Niederkorn barely touching the ball. Niko Kranjcar was certainly the stand-out player of the first half. He controlled the game with his excellent passing. He also came closest to opening the scoring in the 23rd minute. James Tavernier burst forward from right-back and wiped in a superb ball to the back post for Kranjcar who met it with his head. Unfortunately, he directed it above the goal when he really should have converted Rangers first goal of the evening.
The next big chance of the half fell to Rangers. Once again Kranjcar was involved. Rangers earned themselves a corner in the 27th minute. Kranjcar put an excellent ball into the box that was met by David Bates. However, Bates miss-controlled the ball and skied his shot.
Thankfully for Rangers, their dominance was finally rewarded in the 37th minute and yet again Kranjcar played his part. Caixinha’s men were awarded a free kick on the edge of Niederkorn’s box for a handball. Kranjcar took it quickly and played a solid through ball to Kenny Miller who slotted home at the near post to give Rangers the lead. Although it was a good finish from Miller, Niederkorn’s keeper should have done better as he moved away from his near post. This created a gap big enough for Miller to convert his first of the season.
Niederkorn themselves created very little in the first half. Their first shot did not come until the 31st minute and it was not even on target. The Luxemburg side had a few corners but none of them came to anything. They were well and truly dominated in the first 45.
The second half began the same way it ended with Rangers on top. Two minutes into the half Holt played a lovely pass to Miller but his effort went just wide of the post.
Despite Rangers early pressure, Niederkorn did grow into the second half. Their first chance coming from long distance in the 53rd minute. Two minutes later Karapetyan managed Niederkorn’s first good shot of the game forcing Rangers keeper Foderingham to clear somewhat unconvincingly earning Progres a corner.
Rangers then made their first change of the night giving Candeias his debut for the club as he replaced Holt. Then despite being the best player on the pitch, Kranjcar was subbed off in the 68th minute for Rossiter. This substitution really impacted the rest of the game as without Kranjcar on the pitch Rangers could create very little going forward.
Rangers made their final change in the 76th minute. This was another debut as Alfredo Morelos came on for Waghorn.
Although Rangers created very little after Kranjcar went off, Niederkorn could not bring the score level. They did though have a penalty claim waved away in the 81st minute. Niederkorn put a cross into the box which was met by one of their strikers who blasted the ball straight at Lee Wallace’s hand. The hand was still close to Wallace so it may have been unintentional which is clearly what the ref deemed it to be. But the few Niederkorn supporters that travelled to Scotland will feel hard done by.
Ranger’s first big chance after subbing Kranjcar came in the 83rd minute. Miller put pressure on Niederkorn’s defence causing a mistake. Miller would have been through on goal but Flauss came out quickly to clean up the mistake.
Progres Niederkorn clearly new they were not going to get anything from this game after their penalty claim. They brought on two defenders in the 86th and 90th minute to try and make sure they went back to Luxemburg with just a one goal deficit to overcome.
Caixinha’s men did make one final attempt to extend their lead, however. They wiped in a corner to the back post in the 92nd minute to new signings Daniel Candeias who headed it back across goal to Bates. Bates put it straight at the keeper though leaving Rangers with just a 1-0 lead going into the 2nd leg