Soccer

Rangers’ Europa League hopes suffer blow after Aris Limassol draw

Rangers’ Ross McCausland celebrates scoring against Aris (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Rangers’ Ross McCausland celebrates scoring against Aris (Andrew Milligan/PA) Rangers’ Ross McCausland celebrates scoring against Aris (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Rangers’ European journey will continue into 2024 but a disconcerting 1-1 draw with Aris Limassol means a wait until the final Group C fixture to see if progress will be in the Europa League.

The Light Blues had suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to the Cypriot side on matchday two following the departure of boss Michael Beale and on a freezing evening in Govan they were in trouble again in the 28th minute when Shavy Babicka scored on the break.

Boss Philippe Clement replaced Todd Cantwell with Ross McCausland before the break and the young Northern Ireland attacker scored his first Gers goal early in the second half to level.

A poor first-half performance improved only marginally and although Clement remains unbeaten in nine games, there were boos at the end.

Rangers moved on to eight points, one behind Real Betis whom they play in the final Group C game in Spain next month, with Sparta Prague on seven and  Aris Limassol on four and there are permutations in terms of finishing in the top two but at least third place and a spot in the Europa Conference League is guaranteed.

Clement had some reshuffling to do for the visit of the group’s bottom side.

With Connor Goldson suspended and Leon Balogun not in the European squad, the Belgian had to change his centre-back pairing with Ben Davies and John Souttar coming in.

Attacking midfielder Sam Lammers came in for Tom Lawrence but he miskicked from 12 yards in the sixth minute as Rangers began to build some momentum.

However, in the 11th minute Gers keeper Jack Butland had to produce a fine save from a 25-yard thunderbolt from Aris left-back Caju, the home side surviving the corner.

Rangers struggled to click into gear and there was no surprise when they fell behind to the visiting side growing in belief.

After Cantwell had conceded possession in the Aris half, Aleksandr Kokorin’s long pass split Souttar and Davies and Gabon striker Babicka skipped past the latter and then rounded Butland before knocking the ball into the empty net.

As Ibrox continued to grumble in frustration, Kokorin hammered the ball over the bar from 12 yards before boos accompanied Clement’s 35th-minute substitution of Cantwell for 20-year-old winger McCausland, who signed a new deal earlier in the week.

The fans’ ire, though, was mostly directed at Lammers who was having a wretched game but there were more general boos at half-time.

However, three minutes after the restart McCausland had the stadium cheering when he took a pass from Danilo, who had taken advantage of a sloppy throw-in, and drilled the ball low into the net off the far post.

Rangers fans urged their side to inject pace into their game and they were happy to see Lawrence replace Lammers in the 57th minute, just before striker Danilo failed to control a pass from skipper James Tavernier inside the box.

In the 63rd minute, after Rangers broke with pace, McCausland had a shot blocked inside the Aris penalty area after playing an elongated one-two with Lawrence before a Danilo header tested Aris goalkeeper and captain Vana.

Rabbi Matondo took over from Abdallah Sima in the 79th minute but it never really looked like the winner would come and indeed Aris had a few forays in the final minutes, also to no avail.

The journey moves on to Seville but Rangers have to show much more than they did against a very ordinary Aris Limassol team.