Leon Balogun and Kemar Roofe on target in Rangers win over Brondby

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<span>Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

There is a legitimate and prevailing sense that Rangers have been stuck in neutral for most of this season. The highs of the previous campaign have not been reached, a point not at all lost on their manager, Steven Gerrard. Straightforward victories such as this can only help to improve the Ibrox mood. Rangers retain hope of, at the very least, Europa Conference League football in early 2022 after breaking their Group A duck.

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An exceptional performance was not delivered against Brondby but it was not required. Brondby arrived in Glasgow as the sixth-placed team in Denmark and proceeded to perform accordingly. Rangers fully deserved their win, with Gerrard’s only visible frustration that it did not arrive by a wider margin.

“It was a strong home performance under a bit of pressure tonight because we had to win the game,” he said. “We dominated the game. That was very close to the performance we have been looking for.”

Rangers and Brondby had never previously met in a competitive match. The early exchanges suggested nobody had missed out on much, with Rangers wasteful in possession and the Danish side offering little attacking threat. Gerrard’s warning before kick-off that Rangers had been “lacking in the final third” cranked up the heat on his already under pressure forwards.

It was a centre-back who broke the deadlock. James Tavernier, the Rangers captain, was showered with objects as he prepared to take a corner from the right. Tavernier’s response was the perfect one: his set piece found the head of Leon Balogun, who nodded beyond Thomas Mikkelsen. Brondby’s second-choice goalkeeper will feel he should have done better .

Brondby’s response was moderate, although Andrija Pavlovic should have afforded them 27th-minute parity. Instead, the Serbian forward fired wildly over Allan McGregor’s crossbar from a Mikael Uhre cutback. McGregor had nothing to do during the first half-hour.

Rangers soon capitalised further on Brondby’s impotence. There wasn’t much complaint from Rangers when Kemar Roofe’s tap-in was ruled out for offside, the 28-year-old having met the rebound from an Alfredo Morelos header. After a VAR check, the goal – correctly – stood; Roofe had been played onside by Henrik Heggheim. Nothing Brondby did in the opening 45 minutes suggested they had any prospect of recovering from two goals in arrears. The width of the post prevented it from being three, Morelos just missing with a bending effort from 18 yards as the half drew to a close.

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The second period was seconds old when the visitors passed up a glorious chance. Borna Barisic was woefully short with a back pass to McGregor, which allowed Uhre to intercept. He had time to compose himself but instead slashed a shot well wide. Barisic’s defending routinely leaves plenty to be desired but he had been let off the hook from an absolute howler. Brondby seemed to take heart, though. Jens Martin Gammelby saw a shot deflected over as the Danish champions looked to capitalise on Rangers’ sudden fragility.

The officials should have settled home nerves but this time delivered the wrong decision. Joe Aribo, who excelled all evening, was quite clearly upended by Sigurd Rosted when advancing into the Brondby penalty area. Instead, somehow, neither the referee nor those behind screens deemed the challenge a foul.

The cheap concession of possession by Morelos drew a furious reaction from Gerrard and proved an indicator of what was to come. The Colombian striker, stuck on 99 competitive goals for Rangers, was duly removed from the field. Rangers once rated Morelos at £20m; his recent performances are of a player worth a fraction of that.

Two substitutes, Scott Wright and Scott Arfield, combined with the latter diverting his shot on to the crossbar. Fashion Sakala, Morelos’s replacement, then went through on goal but Mikkelsen saved well. Rangers did not need a third; Brondby’s glaring shortcomings meant two were more than sufficient.

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