Football/Soccer

Rangers takes slender Europa League lead as St Johnstone are beaten

Rangers' Kenny Miller celebrates scoring the only goal of his side's win over Progres Niederkorn
By Andy Newport and Gavin McCafferty, Press Association Sport

Europa League first qualifying round, first leg: Rangers 1 Progres Niederkorn 0

RANGERS boss Pedro Caixinha has told the Ibrox faithful not to expect miracles after his side's underwhelming return to European action.

The Portuguese's new-look Light Blues were expected to ease past Luxembourg part-timers Progres Niederkorn.

But Rangers laboured to a narrow 1-0 win as they staged their first Europa League qualifier since their 2012 financial implosion.

Kenny Miller's first-half strike ensured Caixinha's men will take a slender advantage into Tuesday's return leg.

But the manager admits it may take time for his new players to find their groove.

Caixinha said: "It's not a question of fitness, it's a question of time to get the fitness. I'm not a guy that can make miracles in three weeks and just like this the team is ready to get the rhythm of playing. You only get it by playing and by time.

"Only between five and six weeks in pre-season one team is ready to play and we've had just three, so we know the reality we are facing.

"The majority of the players had a good performance, a good rhythm. It's not a question of fitness but it's more a question of better decisions and more aggression."

Caixinha would have liked a bigger lead to take to the Stade Josy Barthel but insists sitting in when they face the minnows again next week is not an option.

"It is half-time and we are winning," he said. "I don't want the team to think that we are winning going there and to just think about a draw or a 2-1 or whatever.

"I'm not thinking like that. I just think about winning. This is the mentality of our club and the standards demanded. This is the way we need to think.

"We are going there to play it like a final. And when the game starts we have to think the game is a draw and that a win will take us to the next stage."

Caixinha has made eight new signings so far this summer but only defender Fabio Cardoso, midfielder Ryan Jack and wideman Dalcio got the nod from the start, while Daniel Candeias and Alfredo Morelos emerged from the bench.

Cordoso and Jack enjoyed their run out but Dalcio looked like he needs the extra weeks of training Caixinha referred to for him to show his best.

But it was Niko Kranjcar who shone the brightest as the Croatian playmaker made his return from eight months out with a devastating knee injury.

Caixinha said: "He's a fantastic player, a playmaker, he's someone that understands the game. With some freshness in the legs and some freshness in his decisions, we were producing some fantastic football.

"He knows how to play between lines, how to make the last pass, his delivery on set-pieces were great. So he needs to keep playing to get the rhythm.

"We are building a team and we know it's better to build with a small result but at the same time a win. We want to progress and keep going in this competition but, of course, in the second leg we need to do more and we want to keep going."

Progres boss Paolo Amodio believes his side could yet spring a surprise after limiting the damage in Glasgow.

"We will do our best," he said. "We will start with 0-0 next week and anything is possible in football.

"I think all the pressure is on Rangers to make sure they go through. They probably expected to win tonight by five or six goals and it's not the case so anything could happen next week."

 

Europa League first qualifying round, first leg: St Johnstone 1 FK Trakai 2

ST Johnstone manager Tommy Wright remained defiant after a 2-1 home defeat by FK Trakai.

The Lithuanians scored through Maksim Maksimov during a slick start and went on to complete a first-leg victory at McDiarmid Park in the Europa League first qualifying round.

Vaidotas Silenas restored their lead in spectacular fashion four minutes after Joe Shaughnessy headed a 32nd-minute equaliser and the visitors escaped a scare after their match-winner was sent off in the 82nd minute, when Graham Cummins failed to convert from six yards.

Saints had other chances. Blair Alston had a shot saved at 1-0 and lively substitute Stefan Scougall hit a post and Liam Craig shot over.

And Wright feels his side can create chances next week.

He said: "We lost it in the first half, even though we probably had the best chance in the first half with Blair. We started okay, but then allowed them too much time on the ball.

"The first goal we should be tighter. We did well to get back in the game, but just naivety and lack of responsibility and communication and we allow Silenas to put in a wonder goal, but the build-up was total naivety from us and shouldn't have happened.

"Second half we created enough chances to win the game.

"But I wouldn't rule us out just yet. There is more to come from us. The players are disappointed with their performance at times in the game where we didn't pass it well enough and made the wrong decision too many times. We had too many crosses over-hit or didn't beat the first man.

"There are things we know we have got to get better at, but I believe we can go over there and win the game and I'm sure the players do."

Wright dismissed suggestions his side paid the price for a lack of sharpness against a team 16 games into their league campaign.

"I don't want to single him out, but it doesn't matter how fit Graham is, he should score from six yards," he said. "The keeper's down early and Blair should lift the ball. I don't think that's anything to do with fitness, just poor finishing."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Football/Soccer