Rangers continued their UEFA Youth League adventure tonight as they took on Slovan Bratislava in the first leg of their second-round clash – and Graeme Murty’s put in a composed and controlled performance to record a well-deserved win at a wet Firhill.
Dapo Mebude had Rangers’ first real chance of the game after nine minutes when Kai Kennedy’s excellent pass sent him haring down the left. After leaving the full-back on the deck, Mebude cut inside but fired his shot tamely at the keeper and it was comfortably saved.
A few minutes later the Light Blues had a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the area but Kennedy’s cross was cleared as the visitors dealt with the threat well.
The Slovakians were starting to struggle with the Gers quick feet and there was another set-piece in a similar position on the opposite side of the area – but again Kennedy’s cross was cleared easily.
With a noisy backing from the healthy crowd inside Firhill, Murty’s side began to increase the pressure on Bratislava as they looked for an opener, forcing the keeper into several saves without ever really looking like beating him.
The opening goal finally came a little under 20 minutes before the break as the impressive Kennedy worked his way into the box only to see his shot pushed out by the keeper but Dapo Mebude was there to poke home the rebound and give the Gers a deserved lead.
Mebude almost grabbed a second just five minutes later but saw his powerful strike beaten away with Young-Coombes straining to catch the rebound.
There was a scare for the Gers just before the break when keeper Lewis Budinauckas was given a weak pass-back and his clearance cannoned off a Slovan Bratislava player, back off the keeper and away to safety.
The half-time break will have given the visitors some respite but the Gers looked just as hungry after the restart as they did before the break.
It didn’t take long for the second goal to come either as Nathan Young-Coombes doubled the Gers’ advantage five minutes into the second half,
Kennedy’s cross was met by the former Chelsea kid and his header looped off the bar hit the keeper and trickled over the line as the striker raced in to apply the finishing touch.
The second goal seemed to be the signal for Slovan to shut up shop and try to limit the damage ahead of the return game in three weeks.
Murty’s side didn’t let this faze them though as they showed great intelligence to retain possession and make Slovan work for it while trying to create gaps to play into.
Rangers were having varied success at trying to break through Bratislava’s two banks of five and the energetic James Maxwell went close with 15 minutes remaining but the keeper got down well to block his effort.
Mebude was next to have a go and the striker looked destined to grab his second but was somehow denied by a great low save to spare Bratislava’s blushes.
The visitors had a late, late chance to pull one back but Lewi Budinauckas didn’t let his inactivity stop him making an impressive save to keep a clean sheet.
The chances kept coming as the clock ticked down and Rangers will surely be more than happy with their efforts in the first leg before heading to Bratislava in three weeks time for the return.