Leon Balogun crowns Rangers’ frantic first-leg triumph over Red Star Belgrade | Europa League
Rangers have taken a big step towards their first European quarter-final in 16 years. James Tavernier and Alfredo Morelos scored in a turbulent first half before Leon Balogun headed for the net early in the second to give the Scottish champions a plump cushion to take with them for next week’s second leg at Belgrade.
Two weeks after one of the most glorious European results in Rangers’ history, Giovanni van Bronckhorst sent on the same XI that ended the winning game against Borussia Dortmund, but he fielded them in a different formation, with a back four rather than a 3-5-2.
The Red Star started well, but the 50,000 excited souls of Ibrox rejoiced when Rangers’ first proper attack gave away a penalty, Ryan Kent sliding into the box and falling on the back leg of Slavoljub Srnic. Tavernier curled an unstoppable kick into the top corner.
Aleksandar Katai thought he had equalized almost immediately but, for the second time from a frantic start, his shot was ruled out for offside. Red Star barely had a chance to curse their bad timing before Rangers inflicted more pain. Ryan Jack received a short corner at the edge of the area before crossing towards the far post; a defensive header sent it bouncing towards Morelos, who sent a gently controlled shot into the net from eight yards out.
Jack’s fortunes then took a turn for the worse in a breathless contest as he was penalized for a foul in his own box. But Katai’s luck did not change: Allan McGregor recovered his penalty with a superb one-hand save. The visitors were skilful and brawny but Rangers nearly made it 3-0 before the break, with Glen Kamara firing over the bar after superb work from Jack and Calvin Bassey.
Five minutes into the second half Rangers broke through again, Balogun surging to head an outbound corner from Tavernier past the goalkeeper 10 yards out. Connor Goldson nearly made it 4-0 from another corner but Aleksandar Dragovic cleared the line.
Red Star remained dangerous. McGregor was finally beaten in the 73rd minute but Guélor Kanga’s ferocious shot from 25 yards slammed the bar.