MATCH REPORT: SC Braga vs Rangers

By This Is Ibrox
 February 27, 2020

Well, I’m really not sure any of us expected that – I mean, we wanted it; We demanded it! But I very much doubt any Rangers supporter expected us to go to Northern Portugal and beat SC Braga in their own back yard with such an impressive performance. Readers of my blog on @thisisibrox will know that I was a huge fan of the way the Portuguese team played at Ibrox last Thursday, certainly for an hour – but there was evidence that if we got in about them, then that could cause them problems. The fact we took a win there would suggest this was a tie we could perhaps get through with a wee bit of luck.

I felt that despite the way that Niko Katic played at the weekend, he would still have started with Goldson last night and retain their consistency of playing together but instead Steven Gerrard gave the second centre-half jersey to George Edmundson. His previous outing was when we played Progres, which feels like an age ago now! The midfield was as I suspected with Arfield, Davis and Jack occupying the middle of the park supporting Hagi, Kent and there was a first start leading the line for Florian Kamberi. Importantly, down the left-hand side, Borna Barasic returned – it just cannot be over- egged how important the Croat has become for Rangers.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to be in Portugal for the game but was prepared, as always, to kick every ball from the comfort of the sofa. My gut reaction when James Tavernier lead the team out was that the Braga Municipal Stadium wasn’t particularly daunting, the atmosphere was certainly nothing like the SC Braga players would’ve experienced at Ibrox. Again though, those that were in Portugal would be better placed to confirm that. My point is we had nothing to really fear for this tie – we know they played better than us for an hour at Ibrox but we were hardly going into a cauldron of noise or anything that resembled ‘powderkeg’. I actually felt at that point the players looked confident. They looked ready.

Rangers started the game well – their organisation was good from back to front and while SC Braga, again, had a lot of the ball they were not troubling Allan McGregor’s goal too much at all. Much of that was also down to excellent defending by Connor Goldson and Edmundson. For the latter to play the way he did after such little game time, would suggest we have a real gem here. Scott Arfield was harrying anything that got in his road and he very nearly set up Kamberi for an early opener.

SC Braga typically played a high line to attempt and squeeze us in but the Canadian international managed to beat their offside trap thanks to a through ball by Ryan Kent, he played in Kamberi only for him to force a good stop from Matheus in goal. In Europe, the one thing you always have to is take your chances, surely we wouldn’t miss another should it happen?! Shortly after, Hagi won possession from their left-back and played in a deft touch to Kent but he snatched at it and it drifted beyond the right-hand post. Kent looked really frustrated but was showing signs that he was in the mood. He was giving us precisely what we want.

These were two golden chances and you couldn’t help but wonder if it was going to be another ‘one of those nights’ – the travelling Bears must’ve breathed a huge sigh of relief when McGregor tipped over a clever Paulinho header but other than that Rangers were absolutely comfortable going into half- time. Just before the teams went in for half-time, Rangers won a corner and the delivery that followed from Ryan Kent was handled by the SC Braga defender Silva – despite a VAR check, the referee had no option but to award a spot-kick. Ianis Hagi stepped up, right foot, but his effort was turned away by an excellent Matheus save.

The second half started in a similar vein to the way the first half had gone – Braga with plenty of the ball but the tenacity of Scott Arfield, Ryan Jack and Steven Davis were breaking down much of their play. Scott Arfield in particular was excellent. The moment we were all waiting for, and none more so than Ryan Kent needed, arrived just after the hour mark.

The impressive Goldson broke up a Braga attack and passed out to Jack who slid a pass in to the feet of Hagi, he cleverly moved around his marker and played wonderful pass into Ryan Kent who had grass to move into. He progressed into the box and slid the ball beyond Matheus and deservedly

Rangers had the lead and a two-goal cushion in the tie. Joy on the pitch and in the dugout, sheer bedlam in the stands and on the sofa!

It's perhaps fair to suggest at this point, the Rangers support, both at home and away probably expected some kind of Alamo assault from SC Braga but it just never came. Paulinho came close to equalising when he hit the post with a header and Scott Arfield had a close-range effort rightly disallowed for offside. Rangers were seeing the game out – and the contest – with real comfort. At this point, I loathe to suggest ‘you love to see it’ but you really do! It was absolutely a European match to remember and another club of substance that has fallen on the sword under the Rangers managers stewardship.

During the ninety minutes there was some really impressive performances – Goldson and Edmundson defending like gladiators, Arfield chasing and imposing his energy on the game and Florian Kamberi leading the line on a night that I would suggest may have been the biggest game in his career to date. All were so impressive. But a special word for the goalscorer of the night – Ryan Kent, in simple terms, he’s been given ‘a doing’ over the last few weeks but last night, his goal was the difference between the two teams and gave us the breathing space to dream about reaching the last sixteen. For me, Kent made that all become a reality. Rangers are in the last sixteen, and nobody could suggest we don’t deserve it.

Lastly some word for our manager and his backroom staff. With a win, it could perhaps have been easy for him to go to Portugal and set the team up in a formation to stifle SC Braga, wear them down and play for a goal-less draw and still progress. He never though, he went with the standard approach and really had a go – if we had come back with a three-goal victory last night it would have been completely deserved. Now I do have a soft spot for our manager – I can’t deny it – but he’s played the European scene wonderfully well this season

If someone had told me in July 2019 when we started the campaign against St. Josephs that we’d be hurtling into the Europa League last sixteen in March 2020, I’d have asked for a swig of whatever it is they were drinking! I honestly don’t care who we get in the next round, it’s great just to be in that pot with the others. To think that we could be welcoming an Arsenal or Manchester United to Ibrox sometime soon certainly whets the whistle.

Scott Paterson
@thisisibrox
@ScottyPaterson6

IG: thisisibrox / scotthpaterson

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