“It was my first achievement as the coach of Rangers,” so said Steven Gerrard after his team had survived with nine men against Russian side FC Ufa. To progress into the Europa League group stage. Far away from home Rangers had overcome the loss of two players and intense late pressure. Gerrard himself was outwardly cool in his dark suit despite the setbacks. Afterward, he could reflect on a dramatically successful night.
My First Achievement as the Coach of Rangers
Rangers took a one-goal advantage from their Europa League play-off first leg into the return match with Ufa. Within ten minutes they had added a second from a fine curling effort by Ovie Ejaria. Everything looked fine for the Glasgow giants. The away goal had surely sealed the tie and more goals seemed likely.
But then Ufa found space down the Rangers left-hand side. Dmitri Sysuev broke past Jon Flanagan and shot in left-footed. Both he and Sylvester Igboun had suddenly stretched the opposition back line. Worse followed when Alfredo Morelos was dismissed for dissent. Gerrard, while not condoning his action, felt it was harsh. And he is young, he stressed.
Down to Nine Men
Despite losing a man, Rangers had the away goal and still looked in control. But they would be tested to the limit when Flanagan ended his bad night by getting sent off following a challenge with his elbow. Nine men would have to hold out for 25 minutes. They did it thanks to stoic (warrior-like, said Gerrard) defending, some expert goalkeeping by Allan McGregor and an overall supreme effort.
Nine Heroes Honour the Badge
Steven Gerrard and his staff had been tested but it was his team that had ultimately honoured the badge. At the final whistle, he hugged each of the nine and later called all of them ‘heroes’ but recognised that they will have to improve their discipline, not least with his first Old Firm game upcoming. However, Gerrard could rightly say ‘my first achievement as the coach of Rangers’.