STEVEN DAVIS’ 95th-minute strike put Rangers within a goal of Malmo ahead of the Ibrox second leg of this UEFA Champions League qualifier next Tuesday.
Twice the Swedes struck inside the opening three minutes of the second half to seemingly be bringing a 2-0 lead to Govan, but with the final kick of the ball, a deflection on Davis’ effort from 20-yards halved the deficit Gers will need to overcome to progress to the play-off round.
From team which defeated Livingston 3-0 in Saturday’s Scottish Premiership curtain-raiser, boss Gerrard named seven changes with Allan McGregor, Fil Helander, Borna Barisic, John Lundstram, Scott Arfield, Scott Wright and Cedric Itten all coming into the starting XI.
They replaced Jon McLaughlin, Leon Balogun, Calvin Bassey, Glen Kamara, Ianis Hagi, Joe Aribo and Fashion Jr.
That meant it was a back five of McGregor in goal with captain James Tavernier, Connor Goldson, Helander and Barisic in front of him.
Steven Davis was joined in midfield by Lundstram and Arfield, while up front, Wright and Ryan Kent played in support of Itten.
Academy graduates Robby McCrorie, Nathan Patterson, Stephen Kelly, Jay Hogarth and Alex Lowry all made the bench tonight, and they were joined by Bassey, Hagi, Fashion Jr and Jack Simpson.
It was the visitors who started the better in Southern Sweden, pressing extremely well right from the off and having a couple of early set-pieces which Malmo did well to defend.
Lovely play on the right from Gers ended with Tavernier picking out Arfield in the middle, but his attempted effort on the top-right corner was gathered easily by Johan Dahlin.
Jo Inge Berget then made a fine interception to prevent Wright, following a clever run into the area from an Itten set-up, preventing Kent from finishing.
Gers were undoubtedly the better team in the first half, but within three minutes of the restart, they found themselves two goals behind.
Soren Rieks grabbed the first, finding himself free at the back post to fire home a Birmancevic Veljko cross before almost straight from the restart, Malmo broke again and netted through that man Veljko who got the break of the ball inside the area before finding the bottom corner.
Gers settled afterwards, and began to play their game again, albeit, chances remained at a premium.
Sub Fashion Jr met a Wright cross at the front post, but the home side managed to smuggle the ball behind, while Tavernier came in on the end of a Barisic ball but goalkeeper Dahlin eventually gathered.
Berget blocked well from an excellent Wright drive from distance, while Malik Abubakari made a fine clearance late-on to prevent Arfield poking home a Helander knock-down from a Tavernier cross.
Deep into stoppage time, Gers had Malmo pinned back inside their own 18-yard box, and the home side simply couldn’t clear their lines.
Eventually, that pressure paid off – Ryan Kent fed Steven Davis on the edge of the box, and with the aid of a deflection, his left-footed shot found the back of the net to halve the deficit with the final kick of the match.
Gers still have work to do, and Malmo certainly showed their quality this evening, but the Northern Irishman’s strike will have given Gerrard’s men a major boost ahead of the second leg.
Before that, it’s all eyes on Tannadice, and the Scottish Premiership meeting with Dundee United on Saturday lunchtime.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Davis, Lundstram, Arfield, Wright, Kent, Itten (Fashion Jr, 63).
SUBS NOT USED: McCrorie, Bassey, Hagi, Simpson, Patterson, Kelly, Lowry, Hogarth.
MALMO FF: Dahlin, Lewicki, Ahmedhodzic, Nielsen, Moisander, Veljko, Innocent, Christiansen, Rieks, Colak, Berget.
SUBS: Ellborg, Johansson, Larsson, Rakip, Beijmo, Abubakari, Gwargis, Nalic, Eile, Brorsson, Bjorkqvist, Nanasi.
REFEREE: Szymon Marciniak
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