Why Rangers now face fraught finale on two fronts

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Written By Maya Cantina

The opportunity was there for Rangers – beat bottom club Aris Limassol and seal Europa League football in the second half of the season with a game to spare.

A disappointing 1-1 draw at Ibrox has not destroyed that ambition – but it has certainly made it significantly more difficult.

The permutations are that Rangers, second in Group C, need victory away to leaders Real Betis on matchday six – no easy task – to finish top, or secure second by matching Sparta Prague’s result against visitors Aris.

Should Rangers ultimately finish third, they will parachute into the Conference League.

Whatever the outcome, the match with Betis comes three days before Rangers’ biggest game of the season so far, the Viaplay Cup final against Aberdeen at Hampden on 17 December. Resting weary legs in Seville is no longer an option.

Manager Philippe Clement cited a “nervousness” in his team and in the stands as Rangers were surprisingly held at home by Aris.

“Maybe because of the occasion, so that is something to work on for sure,” he said.

“After you concede an unnecessary goal, you make it more difficult for yourself.

“We missed the last pass and some freshness as well I think. I see [Abdallah] Sima in the last two games, he has been at a little bit of a lower level after the birth of his baby.

“There is progression because the last time we played against Limassol with more players fit, we lost. We have European football after January, it is important not to forget that. You can be so hungry and want to win but you need to remember that.”

Rangers’ equaliser came from rising star Ross McCausland – the 20-year-old winger’s first for the club – after he replaced Todd Cantwell in the first half.

“I had to make a change early, it is something I do not like to do, but we were missing width and depth on the right-hand side,” explained Clement, who remains unbeaten since taking over from Michael Beale in October.

“I gave that message a few times to Todd but he was coming into the ball too much which is why I made the change.”

Former Rangers striker Kenny Miller, watching on from the media gantry, noticed a lack of “cohesion” from Clement’s side throughout.

“The big thing about Rangers, I see guys like Tom Lawrence making the forward runs, but he is not getting the pass,” he told BBC Sportsound. “And the thing is, who is going to make that pass?

“There is no cohesion within this team yet. It is going to take Clement time, he might need to get his own players before he gets that.”

Follow pundit Steven Thompson added: “To go to Seville in two weeks’ time and beat Betis, on that form, Rangers are certainly not doing it.”

‘Blackout moment’ for McCausland

The game may not live long in the memory of most Rangers players but it proved to be a special night for McCausland, who this week signed a new contract until 2027.

The Northern Ireland winger’s introduction 10 minutes before half-time provided a much-needed jolt to Rangers, who trailed to Shavy Babicka’s well-taken goal.

McCausland had Ibrox rocking with his terrific equaliser and almost added another goal with his inventive and direct attacking play.

His first Rangers goal capped a whirlwind two weeks for the youngster following his Northern Ireland debut and new long-term deal at Ibrox, where he has gone from peripheral figure under Beale to a key part of Clement’s plans.

“It was a wee bit of a blackout moment when the ball it the back of the net,” said McCausland.

“First senior goal for Rangers so I’m delighted with it. [The manager] just wanted me to have an impact. I was glad I was able to give that.

“European football, that’ll be February I believe, to have that guaranteed is amazing. We go into the game against Betis with fire in our belly to get three points.”



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