Opinions differed on how Rangers would fair in their Champions League clash with Manchester United. In fact Scotzine predicted that Rangers could not follow-up their draw at Old Trafford and would be onto a hiding to nothing. However we can hold our hands up and admit we were wrong and that Rangers once again showed despite their lack of finances, they pushed Manchester United all the way, before ultimately falling at the last hurdle. And that result coupled with Valencia’s demolition of Bursaspor will see Rangers now drop down into the Europa League.
Wayne Rooney scored a second half penalty to guarantee qualification to the Last 16 of the Champions League as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men beat Rangers 1-0. Rangers for much of the game had frustrated the English side, but just three minutes until the end of the game, United were awarded a penalty after Steven Naismith was adjudged to have fouled Fabio in the box.
Wayne Rooney returned to the United team after more than a month out and looking to prove to the United fans that he is worthy once more of their adulation.
Within a minute of the start, United looked to have been denied a decent shout for a penalty after Dimitar Berbatov went down in the penalty box after a challenge from Steven Davis. Replays showed that Davis did make contact, but the Bulgarian made a hash of it and flopped to the ground somewhat theatrically. However we have all seen penalties given for much less.
Rooney had the best chance of the first half, when his looping header hit the cross-bar and away to safety after some good play by Fabio down the left flank.
Nani then had a great chance to score after being played in by Michael Carrick, but he messed up his shot.
Rangers then went up the park and could have taken the lead, Miller found space in the United penalty area, but the striker could only shoot straight at Edwin va der Sar, when a square pass may have been the better option.
With Valencia winning in Turkey, Rangers needed to win the tie to have any chance of reaching the Last 16 of the Champions League. But United were the dominant force and their passing was slick.
Into the second half and Rooney had a great chance to give United the lead, but he sent his free kick wide of the target from 25 yards out. Berbatov then should have done better when he sliced his shot from just outside the six yard box, and Rangers keeper was called into action once more when he saved Carrick’s low shot.
But Rangers should have taken the lead after slack play at the back by Jonny Evans, who tried to hold off Naismith rather than clear the danger. Naismith nipped in to get a touch on the ball, but Dutch keeper Van der Sar threw himself at the feet of Naismith to save the midfielder’s shot. The Rangers man was brought down in the follow through, and claimed for a penalty but the Swiss referee wasn’t having any of it, and rightly so.
McGregor then saved another shot from Berbatov, who was looking more and more frustrated at his inability to find the back of the net and slack play by his team mates, and Rooney then saw a header go wide of the post.
As it looked as though both sides would have to settle for the draw, but just five minutes before the 90 minutes were up, a dangerous challenge by Steven Naismith – which Ferguson claimed was assault in his post-match comments – on Fabio, catching the player across the chest saw the Swiss referee award Ferguson’s side a penalty.
Rooney stepped up to take the resulting penalty and sent Allan McGregor – a transfer target for United – the wrong way, netting his first goal since the 28th August.
The goal inspired the dormant United fans into a sing-song, but it shows up the modern-day English Football fan, particularly the top clubs, when they only sing when their team is winning.
And when the final whistle blew, it also signalled Rangers’ Champions League adventures, but after a highly embarrassing performance last year in the competition, this season’s was a vast improvement and did much to buoy Scottish Football in Europe, even if it was just a little bit.
With Rangers dropping down into the Europa League, striker Nikica Jelavic will be ineligible to play for the Ibrox side in the knockout stages of the competition. Jelavic featured for Rapid Vienna in the qualifying stages of Europe’ second club cup competition, but with Rapid’s progression to the group stages it rules him out of Europe.
Walter Smith made one tactical error, but it was not significant to be the reason why Rangers lost the game. Moving Steven Davis from midfield to the right back slot was the wrong thing to do. Yes he did well in the role and snuffed out the threat of Giggs and Fabio, with the help of Steven Whittaker for long stretches of the game, but Rangers lost his presence in midfield and had to rely on youngster Kyle Hutton to help boss midfield. Hutton did well in his first Champions League game, except for a few slack passes. But he is no Davis and it proved costly. Moving Lee McCulloch into the heart of midfield, with Broadfoot and Weir, would have helped the defence far more than Whittaker acting as a central midfielder – which with respect he is not. And with McCulloch’s presence in defence, that gave Davis his place in midfield, while Whittaker would have pushed out to the right back slot.
Despite this error, Rangers threadbare squad and makeshift defence, with the likes of Bougherra, Edu, Lafferty and Papac missing, coped well enough for much of the game.
Up front, it is another game in the Champions League that Kenny Miller has failed to score in and he takes his record to four years now. With the last time he scored in Europe’s top club competition being for Rangers’ arch rivals Celtic. And with Jelavic now ruled out of the Europa League, and Beattie injury prone, Walter Smith will either have to rely on Miller in the lone striker role, or have to invest in the team further with new acquisitions in the January Transfer window.
However I do have to point out the shameful behaviour of some Rangers fans who disregarded their own club’s request not to sing the banned Billy Boys song. Sadly the song was sung twice by elements within the support not the majority may add, but a sizeable portion. Either they did it in protest against what they claim is the club turning away from its Protestant traditions or they just didn’t care that their club would be punished. One thing is clear, just releasing a statement on the club’s website is not enough. Police and club officials have to now single out the fans who continue to sing such vile songs and ban them from Rangers game, otherwise the issues will continue to haunt Scottish Football.
A United fan also managed to get onto the park to celebrate Rooney scoring the penalty, and much to my amazement no steward nor copper spotted him, until he tried to return to the crowd. Rangers could face a fine because of this fan’s pitch invasion, although the club should direct the fine to Rock Steady Security who provided the so-called stewards.
And on a lighter note, Wayne Rooney was booed throughout the game by Rangers fans. Either Rooney has had sexual relations with 100,000 grannies or they were just booing him for the hell of it, either way he answered his critics by scoring and not resorting to his usual exploding temperament that follows him around at times.
Rangers: [5-4-1] Allan McGregor, Steven Davis, Steven Whittaker, Kirk Broadfoot, David Weir, Richard Foster, Steven Naismith, Lee McCulloch, Kyle Hutton [Beattie 88 mins], Vladimir Weiss [Fleck 79 mins], Kenny Miller.
Subs not Used: Alexander, Loy, Wylde, Perry.
Man United: [4-4-2] Van der Dar, O’Shea, Evans, Smalling, Da Silva, Nani [Obertan 77 mins], Carrick, Scholes [Anderson 67 mins], Giggs, Berbatov [Hernandez 76 mins], Rooney.
Subs not Used: Amos, Evra, Brown, Macheda.
Venue: Ibrox Stadium
Referee: Massimo Busacca
Match Report from the other Group C game
Valencia 6-1 Bursaspor
Valencia produced a feast of quality attacking play as they overcame a truly dreadful Bursaspor side and certified qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League. It also happened to be the first time in four years that Los Che have advanced this far.
Everything in the 1st half was far too easy for Valencia, as they took the game to their opponents from the off. Unai Emery showed his intent to get the 3 points and subsequent qualification by setting up in a traditional 4-4-2, with Roberto Soldado and Artiz Aduriz leading the line supported by Juan Mata and Captain Joaquín in wide areas.
The ex-Betis man fired a warning shot in the opening minutes, as he drove down the right flank and cut inside, only his shot was directed towards the near post when he perhaps should’ve gone across the goal.
Meanwhile Bursaspor then had their best spell in the entire game, as they carved out 3 very good chances. Ricardo Costa was caught napping and Yildirim found himself with the whole goal in front of him, but his deft lob over Moyà just went narrowly wide. Ivan Ergić then had a double chance to shock the hosts, but his finishing lacked any real composure as his right footed drives were both blocked well.
It was the wake-up call Valencia required though, and via a counter attack soon after they were awarded a penalty after Ömer Erdoğan tripped Aduriz in the area – Mata duly stepped up to send Yavuz Özkan the wrong way. The 2nd soon followed, and the floodgates were about to open – Mata turned provider following some nice approach play, as his simple through ball found Soldado who slotted past Özkan. While the players were celebrating, at the opposite end goalkeeper Miguel Ángel Moyà went down with an injury, and was immediately substituted by Vicente Guaita.
More neat play then saw Jordi Alba break into the penalty area before cutting it back to Aduriz who tapped home at the second attempt. 3-0 and Valencia were cruising, as the visitors lacked any communication at the back, and weren’t pressing the white shirts who gathered around the penalty box.
Alba again meandered forward for the 4th – he was beginning to abandon his defensive duties as the pressure on him was severely lacking from the Turkish side now – the young wide player laid the ball off to Joaquín whose shot got a slight clip off Erdoğan to see the ball loop into the top corner of the net.
After the break Valencia took their foot off the gas a little as they kept the ball well in midfield, while not really going at Bursa with too much intent. Such was still the lack of resilience from the visitors, Joaquín had time to take the ball into his feet, look up, and release a well weighted pass which found Soldado whose shot smashed into the roof of the net.
Los Che then seemed to relax ever more, and this let Bursa in as substitute Pablo Batalla crept in round the defence to score a mere consolation goal. It was poor defensive work though, as Hedwiges Maduro was clearly pulled out of position while Ricardo Costa backed off when perhaps he could’ve closed down Yildirim.
The scoring for the home side wasn’t over though, and a long ball forward from Guaita wasn’t cut out by the static Serdar Aziz who misjudged the ball’s flight which let in Mata who flicked the ball to Chori Domínguez – who had replaced Aduriz on the hour mark – to finish with his right foot.
With 10 minutes remaining the result was a formality as the home side kept the ball and increased their possession stat. Despite some very nice pieces of play in the closing stages they couldn’t find a 7th, but overall they’ll be overjoyed with the performance and it will be a welcome confidence boost in front of goal for several of the players.
Valencia report written by David Cartlidge for our sister site, Spanishfootball.info – the site to fuel your Spanish Football addiction.