Rangers 2-0 Sparta Prague: Giovanni van Bronckhorst wins his first game in charge

The birth of Giovanni van Brockhorst’s tenure as Rangers manager became an occasion of many happy returns.

The first was purely personal. Stepping out in front of an adoring Ibrox, two decades after he last graced this ground as a player, was always going to be a special thrill for the Dutchman.

Events on the pitch determined his mood thereafter. Returning Rangers to winning ways after the weekend torment at Hampden made this a very positive start. As a consequence of the two-goal margin, his second-time-around employers can now look forward being back in Europa League action after Christmas for a third successive year. Second place in Group A has been secured ahead of the trip to meet Lyon in a fortnight.

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Manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst won his first game in charge of Rangers on Thursday

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The job was done thanks to yet another restoration. Too often this season, Alfredo Morelos has been a peripheral presence in matches. Against Hibs on Sunday, he offered precisely nothing.

Whatever Van Bronckhorst whispered in his ear at training in preceding 48 hours seemed to do the trick here. Two goals – the first crisply-taken, the second gift-wrapped and tied with a bow – raised his tally to 27 for Rangers in European competition.

This was more like it from the Colombian. Getting him back on a consistently upward trajectory would undoubtedly count as a managerial victory for Van Bronckhorst in the weeks ahead.

Ryan Kent also showed signs of his old self, while Joe Aribo buzzed with intent but couldn’t find a finish. In truth, Rangers should have scored more.

At the other end of the pitch, there are some things that simply never change. Regardless of form or who’s in charge.

The Scottish side beat Sparta Prague in their Europa League game at the brox Stadium thanks to a brace from Alfredo Morelos (right)

Ryan Kent (above) also showed signs of his old self, while Joe Aribo buzzed with intent but couldn’t find a finish. In truth, Rangers should have scored more

At the age of 39, Allan McGregor made a truly astonishing double save in the final minutes to preserve the precious scoreline. It was goalkeeping of eye-popping brilliance. Another entry can be added to his lengthy list of European heroics.

Sparta couldn’t quite believe what McGregor had done. They caused their share of problems to the Ibrox defence. Ultimately, though, the Van Bronckhorst era began with Rangers’ first clean sheet in seven matches. Just as he had demanded.

After all the talk about hunger following Connor Goldson’s post-match comments on Sunday, this was the best possible way to answer back.

European football had also been the stage for Van Bronckhorst’s playing debut with Rangers following a £5 million move from Feyenoord in 1998. He scored, too, helping Dick Advocaat’s side recover from a shock 3-0 deficit against Irish outfit Shelbourne to eventually record a 5-3 UEFA Cup victory. The hope was of a more straightforward introduction on the touchline.

At the age of 39, Allan McGregor made a truly astonishing double save in the final minutes to preserve the precious scoreline. It was goalkeeping of eye-popping brilliance

Van Bronckhorst emerged from the tunnel after the Europa League theme had died down to permit a PA announcement to hype his arrival. A walk to the touchline and a little wave towards all four stands acknowledged the chants of ‘Gio, Gio’ before the 46-year-old took his place in the dug-out beside Roy Makaay.

He had promised changes to mark the post-Steven Gerrard era. In terms of personnel, the biggest surprise was an enforced one. A fitness issued ruled out Leon Balogun, meaning Calvin Bassey was introduced in central defence alongside Goldson. Otherwise, there was a minor alteration in shape.

Aribo was pushed closer to Morelos to make a 4-2-3-1, with Kent to the left and Ianis Hagi on the right. Scott Arfield, who claimed a non-consolation goal at the weekend, was dropped to the bench.

An expectant, boisterous atmosphere almost demanded an early breakthrough to sustain its power. Rangers duly provided one after 15 minutes.

James Tavernier prodded a forward pass that look like it might have too much for Hagi until the Romanian produced a brilliant spot of improvisation. Dropping into a slide, he hooked the ball away from centre-back Filip Panak and into the path of Morelos. It needed a first-time finish. The Colombian delivered, calmly sending his shot beyond Sparta keeper Dominic Holec from just inside the area.

Scott Arfield, who claimed a non-consolation goal at the weekend, was dropped to the bench

Morelos headed a jubilant band of Rangers players who raced to celebrate in front of the supporters massed behind Holec’s goal. Van Bronckhorst greeted the goal with clenched fists.

The Ibrox side could have already been ahead. Kent started in quicksilver fashion, dancing away from challenges to surge into the area and cut the ball back for Aribo. He took a touch to set himself before clipping the top of the bar.

An even better opportunity would arrive for the Nigeria midfielder on 23 minutes.

Tavernier and Hagi again combined, with the former releasing the latter down the right flank. Hagi crossed for Aribo, but the ball reached him at an awkward height and he could only nudge a close-range shot over the bar as Holec scrambled in front of him.

Rangers had the chances to really punish Sparta. They were the better team, but it was far from complete dominance. The Czechs pressed high and gained some joy as their hosts looked a little uncertain playing out from the back. As the first half progressed, they began to gain more territory.

Tavernier had a stellar performance and provided a forward pass ahead of their first goal

Sparta also carved out one clear sight of goal. Lukas Haraslin did superbly to keep the threat alive as he burrowed into the box from the right. A cross was poked to Martin Minchev. The striker thought he’d scored with a near-post strike but Allan McGregor stuck out his left foot to make an excellent save.

Rangers dusted themselves down and dispelled any sense of doubt with a storming start to the second period. Sparta were pulled all over the place.

Right-back Tomas Wiesner slipped as Kent raced onto a spearing pass from Connor Goldson and hared towards goal. Shifting the ball onto his right foot, he curled a shot just wide.

Then, on 49 minutes, came the comical, yet gratefully received, second goal.

Panak attempted a risky pass across his area to a fellow defender but got the execution hopelessly wrong. It was easy for Morelos to intercept and head into the gaping net.

Ibrox was engulfed in delight as Panak sunk to his knees in despair. He would have boarded a flight out of Glasgow in that instant had the option been available.

Kent was keen to pile on the hurt. Another surging run took him through the Sparta defence, only for Holec to deflect his strike wide.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst (left) will look to continue his winning form with Rangers

He then turned provider. Skinning David Pavelka on the left, Kent advanced before sliding a through ball for Aribo. Again, the midfielder’s movement was good. Again, though, a finish was absent as he scooped off target.

Van Bronckhorst’s first substitution as Rangers manager was an intriguing one. Withdrawing Hagi, he gave Nathan Patterson a role ahead of Tavernier on the right. A sign of things to come?

Adam Hlozek fired too high for Sparta before McGregor’s moment of magnificence. A point blank stop to deny Ladislav Krejci’s point-blank header was followed by an incredible reaction recovery to thwart the follow-up with his leg. What a way to Van Bronckhorst to get up and running. 

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