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Morelos strikes late to send Rangers into group stage
The forward headed a stoppage-time winner at Ibrox.
Alfredo Morelos sparked jubilant scenes at Ibrox as his injury-time winner against Legia Warsaw sent Rangers into the Europa League group stage.
Eyes and ears were on the Govan stands as much as the action on the pitch after UEFA issued Gers with a double rap for sectarian singing.
But the biggest roar of the night was reserved for Morelos as he sealed a last-gasp 1-0 win which sees Steven Gerrard’s team repeat their feat of successfully making it all the way through four rounds to qualify.
And Legia will likely now find themselves in trouble with European football’s governing body after the travelling Polish support set off a spectacular pyrotechnic display that saw the game temporarily halted with the field shrouded in a thick blanket of smoke.
Rangers were forced to close off 3,000 seats as a result of the sectarian chants that marred their opening qualifier with St Joseph’s, while the threat of a more severe punishment – including a full stadium closure – is yet to be decided after more chants were aired in Warsaw last week.
The Legia fans did their best to spark a response from the home support as they unfurled a banner apparently depicting the late Pope John Paul II, himself a Pole.
But the home faithful kept the songbook clean as they responded to Gerrard’s call to pump up the noise.
They might have been silenced inside two minutes had Sandro Kulenovic found a way to beat Allan McGregor after Legia countered at lightning speed.
But the Light Blues faithful were soon roaring their team on. Sheyi Ojo fired just wide after Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic waved play on when Morelos was tripped.
The Colombian really should have done better than head wide as he was presented with the early chance the hosts were longing for.
Ryan Jack did well to work space on the right before eventually throwing over a perfect cross to the back post, but Gers’ top scorer blinked at the worst possible moment.
Morelos had also left the crowd groaning with a couple of heavy touches. He decided to have a pop himself after Connor Goldson and Joe Aribo did well to halt Warsaw as they mounted a charge.
But with Aribo unmarked and screaming for a lay-off, it was made to look like the wrong choice as the ball sailed into Warsaw stopper Radoslaw Majecki’s midriff.
Again, though, there were moments of concern as the half drew to a close.
First, Luquinhas hassled the ball off James Tavernier, cut past Goldson but could not generate the power to beat McGregor.
Then Cafu was left worryingly free to head wide from Valerian Gvilia’s corner delivery.
It took a last-ditch block by Igor Lewczuk to prevent Morelos starting the second half with a bang as Gers pushed for the opener.
But as the minutes ticked by without a breakthrough, the tension intensified. The noise levels soared then fell as Ojo pulled out a finger-tip save from Majecki before Morelos pushed another effort just wide.
Another warning shot was sent out as Luquinhas fizzed just over McGregor’s bar, while Goldson had his keeper to thank after letting Jaroslaw Niezgoda wriggle clear.
But with six minutes added on it was Gers who were left to celebrate in wild style as Morelos got on to a Jordan Jones cross to flick home the precious winner with his head.
There were ugly scenes as the teams twice had to be separated after that, but with the stadium shaking, it was Rangers who had the last laugh.