Rangers sealed a sensational comeback when they won 3-0 at Ibrox against Union Saint-Gilloise to progress 3-2 on aggregate and seal a place in the Champions League play-offs.
Skipper James Tavernier, with a penalty, and second-half headers from Antonio Colak and Malik Tillman completed a superb turnaround at a rocking Ibrox after Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side lost 2-0 in Belgium a week ago.
There was excitement around the return of Gers winger Ryan Kent from an ankle knock with left-back Borna Barisic and midfielder Scott Arfield also back while Ridvan Yilmaz, Scott Wright and Steven Davis dropped to the bench.
Alfredo Morelos, who came off the bench on Saturday to score the clincher in a 2-0 win against Kilmarnock after a five-month absence due to a thigh injury, started again among the substitutes but there was a feeling that the Colombia striker would be required at some point.
Willed on by their enthusiastic but anxious fans, Rangers hastily tried to unsettle Union SG, who were unchanged from last week’s first leg in Belgium. Attacker Tillman headed a Tom Lawrence corner past the near post before striker Colak headed a free-kick from Tavernier just over the bar.
The visitors, meanwhile, barely left their own half but with their first corner which came in the 19th minute, defender Siebe van Der Heyden glanced Simon Adingra’s delivery just past the far post and Ibrox breathed a sigh of relief.
In the 28th minute Union SG keeper Anthony Moris reacted quickly to tip a header from Colak over the bar, from a terrific Lawrence free-kick, and the visitors held out again.
However, they were undone just before the break when referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos judged that Barisic’s deep cross into the box had struck the arm of van Der Heyden and Tavernier duly sent Moris the wrong way with his spot kick.
It was a moment of madness from the Union SG defender moments before the interval. And it was the perfect time for Gers to get a goal just as the visitors were looking comfortable.
Rangers were causing a lot of their own problems by continually giving the ball away in their own half with James Sands and Connor Goldson the Ibrox side’s worst culprits. Fortunately the Belgians failed to capitalise on the sloppy errors by the Gers defence.
In the 58th minute it was 2-0 and level on aggregate when Lawrence crossed for Tavernier who volleyed into the box and the ball fell kindly to Arfield whose shot was saved by Moris and Colak headed home from a yard. Two minutes later Lundstram tested Moris from 18 yards with Ibrox jumping as the Gers players could smell blood. Arfield was replaced by Rabbi Matondo in 64 minutes.
Gers were pouring forward now trying to get the third goal which would seal their play-off place. And they got it with 11 minutes to go when Tillman headed home superbly from Barisic’s sky-high free kick. Morelos did come on with the job done. Union SG were reduced to ten men in injury time when Lazare Amani was given a second booking and Gers held on for a famous victory.
They will now face PSV Eindhoven, who beat Monaco in extra-time, with the first leg at Ibrox next week. This means Van Bronckhorst will come up against former Dutch team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy, who is PSV boss. The pair were on opposing sides when Dick Advocaat’s Rangers beat PSV home and away in the Champions League in 1999.