- Rangers took the lead in the second half after Morelos’ smart turn and finish
- Steven Davis’ shot squirmed through from outside the area to get Ibrox rocking
- Porto had an early shot cleared off the line when Glen Kamara had to hack clear
Alfredo Morelos sends Ibrox into raptures after his excellent finish puts Rangers 1-0 ahead
Steven Gerrard is close to leading Rangers to the knockout stages of the Europa League
Glen Kamara is well prepared to boot the ball clear from danger after it nearly crossed the line
Alfredo Morelos had a golden chance to put Rangers ahead but Ryan Kent’s cross missed him
Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor makes a sprawling save to stop Porto from taking the lead
Morelos did well to collect the ball and fire low into the corner on the turn after Jack’s delivery
The 23-year-old prolific striker knee-slides to celebrate his opener against favourites Porto
Steven Davis runs towards the fans after his strike from range gave Rangers a two-goal cushion
Rangers fans were delirious after Davis’ goal put them in a commanding position against Porto
Ryan Jack waves to the fans after playing a key role in Rangers’ famous victory over Porto
This felt like more than just a victory. By claiming biggest scalp yet of Steven Gerrard’s admirable tenure in European football, Rangers delivered a powerful message about their return to prominence upon this stage.
It was what Gerrard had demanded. That those who dismissed his side’s chances when the draw for Europa League Group G was made would be forced to reflect and reassess. They will have to now.
Quarter-finalists in the Champions League last season, Porto arrived as a team under pressure but one still harbouring plentiful quality. Their threat was exhibited during the course of 69 minutes of tense, tight combat until one moment of supreme skill saw them brought to their knees.
Who else but Alfredo Morelos to provide it? A scorer in the 1-1 draw at the Estadio do Dragao two weeks ago, the Colombian claimed his 11th continental goal of the season – and his 21st overall – with a sublime left-foot finish that melted the cold out of jubilant Ibrox support.
Steven Davis, the grand old conductor of this team, doubled the advantage four minutes later to leave Rangers as victors in all six of their home Europa League games in this campaign. Their stadium can justifiably be tagged as a fortress once more.
It means Gerrard’s men also completed a glory night for Scottish football after Celtic’s earlier win over Lazio in Rome. Now joint-top with Young Boys, the Ibrox outfit could now join their rivals in the last 32 if they get a positive result away to Feyenoord later this month and the other section result is favourable.
Gerrard had been bullish in his pre-match addresses. He admitted his pleasure in witnessing ‘spiky’ training sessions as players battled hard to earn his favour with a starting slot.
As it was, the Ibrox boss opted for the same line-up as in Portugal’s a fortnight ago. That meant just one change from Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final success over Hearts, with Brandon Barker stepping in to replace Sheyi Ojo. There is now a pretty settled look about Rangers for the biggest matches.
Gerrard was adamant his team would be positive and not sit in. Yet they were forced onto the defensive for chunks of the opening period. Alterations to shape and personnel added an extra vim to some of Porto’s play in comparison with the first meeting.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Davis, Jack, Kamara, Barker (Arfield 65), Morelos (Defoe 85), Kent (Aribo 83)
Subs not used: Foderingham, Edmunson, Ojo, Flanagan
Goals: Morelos 69 Davis 73
Porto: Marchesin, Pepe (Diaz 49), Marcano, Alex Telles, Uribe, Corona, Wilson Manafa, Mbemba, Danilo, Otavio (Silva 74)
Subs not used: Diogo Costa, Bruno Costa, Nakajima, Ze Luis, Saravia
Booked: Otavio, Danilo, Diaz
Ref: Davide Massa
Right-back Wilson Manafa sought to turn the tables on Borna Barisic by pushing high whenever possible, getting beyond the Croatian to create some early jitters. Then, on eight minutes, came a more profoundly heart-stopping moment for the home defence.
Operating in an advanced midfield area, Colombian international Mateus Uribe was given sufficient space to unleash a shot that was deflected behind. A phalanx of yellow-shirted Porto players formed on the goal-line as the corner prepared to be taken, crowding out an space for Allan McGregor.
They moved forward in unison when the set-piece was stuck, with Pepe getting a little flick to divert the ball towards the far post. McGregor was beaten but Glen Kamara wasn’t. The Finland midfielder showed his defensive diligence by clearing off the line.
It was a scare for a team that looked a little edgy. Spells of slick, composed possession had been a hallmark of the Rangers showing in Porto. Here, it was more fractured.
Touches weren’t quite right. Passes were delivered a split-second late. On the right flank, Barker gave the ball away more than once.
Gerrard watched it all from the edge of his technical area. If he was concerned, it didn’t manifest itself in any great show of emotion. But he would have known a greater impetus was needed.
Ryan Jack sought to provide it. He just about managed to tee up Ryan Kent from a James Tavernier cross, but the £7 million winger’s attempted snapshot sailed high into a Broomloan Road stand that periodically erupted into a shimmering display of red, blue and silver foil flags.
Jack was more decisive with his next intervention. Smashing into a fair challenge around 30 yards from goal, he sent the ball speeding wide right to Kent.
It was a golden opening. Morelos hared into the centre to await a cross with the Porto defence parted, but Kent didn’t deliver with sufficient speed. That enabled the backtracking Otavio to lunge in with an interception and deny any chance for Morelos.
The Porto midfielder’s reward was to be crunched by Barisic in a sliding challenge that drew a first booking from Italian referee Davide Massa.
Otavio soon collected a yellow card of his own before McGregor pulled off a brilliant save from Francisco Soares – unaware the offside flag had already gone up.
The closing minutes of the half brought better from Rangers. And almost delivered a lead. A lovely, incisive pass from Steven Davis – gradually asserting more influence – picked out Tavernier. His intelligent cutback found Barker, but the former Hibs loanee couldn’t locate his composure. A drive fired over the top deflated an expectant Ibrox.
Gerrard’s side were back out for the restart a good 30 seconds ahead of Porto. The home crowd hoped it was a signal of greater urgency to follow.
They received an early lift when pantomime villain Pepe retired hurt to bring his latest duel with Morelos to a premature end. Luis Diaz, scorer of a world-class goal in the first meeting, was brought off the bench as the veteran’s replacement, while Chancel Mbemba dropped from midfield to centre-back.
Once of Newcastle, Mbemba was put to the test by Kent’s dancing feet. He was foxed by the ex-Liverpool man, who also twisted away from Jesus Corona before zipping in a low strike that Augustin Marchesin had to shovel wide. It was as close as Rangers had come with an hour played.
Gerrard then withdrew the ineffective Barker to introduce Scott Arfield’s experience and aggression, but it was Porto who fashioned the next clear sight of goal.
Now operating on the left, Wilson Manafa snuck in around the back to connect with a low effort that Connor Goldson managed to clear off the line.
That escape was maximised to the full. With 69 minutes on the clock, Morelos struck in glorious fashion as Ibrox was consumed in celebration.
Tavernier released Jack on the right wing for a cross that found the Colombian just inside the area. A sound first touch of his right foot was followed by lip-smacking finish off his left as the ball swerved out of Marchesin’s reach and inside his right-hand post.
That was good enough, but Morelos had a hand in the lead being doubled within four minutes. He stayed onside to gather a Kent through-ball and roll it back for Davis. His low drive took a nick through a crowd of Porto bodies and the job was done.