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Malik Tillman caps rousing Rangers comeback against Union Saint-Gilloise

Rangers are one step closer to the Champions League and what they will not unreasonably regard as the completion of a redemption story following their financial implosion of 2012. Union Saint-Gilloise entered this second leg two goals to the good. They left Ibrox dizzy, having been caught in the kind of blue whirlwind that has become so common on the European front in recent times. Rangers progressed to the playoff round with swagger. The prospect of both halves of the Old Firm playing Champions League group stage football for the first time since 2007-8 remains a live one.

Last week’s showing in Belgium has been widely depicted as Rangers’ poorest under Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Widespread surprise attached to that display owed plenty to Van Bronckhorst leading his team out in the Europa League final at the end of last season. Under Van Bronckhorst and his immediate predecessor, Steven Gerrard, Rangers have been formidable against foreign opposition.

Rangers opened the second leg in a manner that suggested they had a point to prove. Antonio Colak headed narrowly over from a James Tavernier free-kick. Ryan Kent, restored to the Rangers team after injury, was lively on the left flank. In a rare USG breakaway, James Sands snuffed out the threat as posed by Dante Vanzeir.

Yet in the first quarter of the game, Rangers had failed to mark their dominance with the opener. As Siebe Van der Heyden flicked a free header wide of the home goal, murmurs of concern were apparent from the packed Ibrox stands. USG, who hardly look a side capable of troubling the cream of Europe, were holding firm. Colak came close to easing frustrations. From a menacing Tom Lawrence free-kick, the Croatian drew an acrobatic Anthony Moris save with a glancing header.

Colak’s two chances, though, were the sum of Rangers’ first-half efforts before they were offered the perfect opportunity from 12 yards. Van der Heyden was the offender, with handball after Borna Barisic had floated into the USG penalty area. James Tavernier did what James Tavernier does in such situations, to afford Rangers crucial momentum at the interval.

Within 13 minutes of the restart, the tie was level. Colak could barely miss from all of a yard after Moris had beaten Scott Arfield’s shot into the air. After USG appealed in vain for offside against Colak, Rangers knew they had more than enough time to complete a turnaround. As Moris saved smartly from John Lundstram, it felt a question of when rather than if the hosts would claim their third goal of the night. USG looked incapable of launching a response.

Brief – but only that – worry for Rangers did follow. Sands looked to be heading for an early bath after the referee showed him a second yellow card following a challenge on Vanzeir. Following consultation with one of his assistants, the Greek official, Anastasios Sidiropoulos, reversed his decision. Sands survived. So too did the Rangers goalkeeper, Jon McLaughlin, who had placed Sands in peril with a short pass.

This moment of drama was soon forgotten. Moris was at fault after failing to clear a high, looping cross that should really have posed no danger to the USG goalkeeper. As he instead swung and missed, Malik Tillman chose the perfect point to nod in his first Rangers goal. A three-goal lead for Van Bronckhorst’s men was entirely merited on the balance of play.

Alfredo Morelos, working his way back from long-term injury, entered the fray as Rangers kept their foot on the accelerator. USG lost Lazare Amani to a second booking in stoppage time after dissent. The episode rather typified their night.

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