Rangers have taken a huge step towards a place in the Europa League last 16 with a fantastic win over Red Star at Ibrox as goals from James Tavernier, Alfredo Morelos and Leon Balogun sealed a 3-0 win for the Gers in the first leg.
The Gers travel to Belgrade next week knowing it’ll take something special to see them knocked out as the Light Blues continue to defy expectations in Europe.
The Light Blues made two changes from the weekend win over Aberdeen, Balogun and John Lundstram coming into the side with Borna Barisic and Scott Arfield making way – Barisic taking his place on the bench.
Having reached the last 16 for the third season in a row, Rangers were looking to get off to a quick start and the Light Blues immediately tried to get forward.
However, just three minutes in, Red Star had the ball in the back of the net before an offside flag – and a VAR check – ruled out Katai’s effort.
It was a lucky escape for Rangers and gave the Light Blues an early warning of just what the Serbians are capable of in attack.
VAR’s busy start continued, a check taking place on a possible penalty shout for Rangers after Ryan Kent appeared to be tripped and, after a lengthy wait, it was penalty to Rangers time.
There was certainly contact between Kent and Srnic, and once referee Serdar Gözübüyük had a look at it for himself, James Tavernier stepped up and buried his effort right in the top corner to send Ibrox wild with just over ten minutes on the clock.
It hadn’t been a great start by Rangers but the goal lifted the atmosphere around Ibrox as Rangers started rocking.
Incredibly, Katai would see a second goal disallowed thanks to VAR in the opening thirteen minutes, the Serbia international again judged to have been offside in the build-up.
Allan McGregor was very lucky the VAR stepped in after the keeper made a mess of his attempt at denying Katai – but it didn’t matter.
With less than 15 minutes played, Alfredo Morelos does what the Colombian does, scoring his 32nd Europa League goal to make it 2-0 with a clinical finish.
El Bufalo just comes alive in the Europa League, as he also extended his club-record European goals haul for the Gers.
The drama was far from over, Red Star winning a penalty for a foul on Ivanic by Ryan Jack but Rangers incredible night continued, McGregor pulling off an outrageous save from Katai’s penalty.
There was a delay in the wake of the penalty save, John Lundstram picking up an ankle injury as Rangers tried to clear a corner with McGregor also seeming to be nursing his neck.
A breathless opening thirty minutes had met none of the pre-match expectations, both sides going for it and committing numbers forward as the game went from end to end.
Despite a two-goal lead, there was a feeling Rangers could concede at any moment but the form Morelos is showing, you wouldn’t be surprised anytime he got the ball.
With five minutes until the break, Glen Kamara went close to making it 3-0 for Rangers but could only watch as his effort went just over Borjan’s crossbar with the keeper well beaten.
As the opening 45 ticked away, the Gers seemed to make a slight tactical tweak, Lundstram dropping into defence and letting Bassey and Tavernier push a little further forward in support of the Rangers attackers.
Unsurprisingly, there were no changes at the break for either side and when the second 45 kicked off, there was a real anticipation there would be more goals to come before the night was over.
A third goal for Rangers would leave van Bronckhorst’s side very much in control of their destiny but the gamble of throwing bodies forward was likely going to be one the Dutchman weighed up – with the visitors desperate to get a goal of their own and blow the game wide open.
But with the second half barely five minutes old, Rangers hard their third goal and a clear path to the last eight, Leon Balogun out jumping everyone to bullet James Tavernier’s corner into the far corner of the net and spark yet more celebrations.
Ibrox was bouncing, Red Star were reeling and Rangers looked hungry to add a fourth and really put the tie to bed with 40 minutes of the first leg remaining.
Red Star would make the first changes of the game with 30 minutes to go, bringing two strikers on in place of Omoijuanfo and Srnic as they chased a goal.
The visitors were having a brief spell of pressure and McGregor had to do well to deny Ben Nabouhane moments after he came off the bench, showing fantastic reactions to block the Red Star striker at close range.
Despite not being played at the same frantic pace as the first half, Rangers were very much in control of proceedings and van Bronckhorst will have been pleased with the way they nullified any threat posed by the likes of Katai.
Connor Goldson very nearly joined defensive partner Leon Balogun on the scoresheet, watching as Dragovic cleared his effort off the line with 20 minutes left.
There was another lucky escape for McGregor when Kanga crashed a stunning effort from distance off the underside of the bar as McGregor tried his best to stop the Gabonese international’s strike.
Rangers would turn to the bench for the first time shortly afterwards, Fashion Sakala and James Sands joining the fray in place of Jack and Aribo to see out the final 15 minutes.
For the third time in the night, Red Star would have the ball in the back off the net – and much to the pleasure of the packed Ibrox crowd – and for the third time, an offside flag would see it disallowed.
There would be one last golden chance for Rangers to make it 4-0, Goldson somehow failing to nod home after a fantastic free-kick delivery found the centre-back free at the back-post with the goal gaping.
Once the final whistle blew on an utterly remarkable 90 minutes, there was little doubt just how big a win the Light Blues had secured.
Rangers are now in pole position to book their place in the quarter-final draw a week on Friday but know they can’t afford a slack performance in Belgrade next week.
As unlikely as it may have seemed earlier this season, Rangers might just be headed for Seville in May.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey, Jack, Lundstram, Kamara, Aribo, Kent, Morelos
Subs: McCrorie, McLaughlin, Diallo, Ramsey, Sands, Wright, Roofe, Sakala, Barisic, King, Lowry
Red Star: Borjan, Piccini, Rodic, Dragovic, Erakovic, Sanogo, Srnic, Ivanic, Kanga, Katai, Omoijuanfo
Subs: Popovic, Gordic, Gajic, Pankov, Krsicic, Pavkov, Falco, Motika, Zivkovic, Ben Nabouhane, Radulovic, Gobelijic