Rangers paid the price for another second-half capitulation as 10-man Malmo dashed their Champions League qualification hopes and relegated the Scottish champions to the Europa League with a 2-1 (4-2 on aggregate) win at Ibrox.
Rangers, trailing 2-1 from the first leg, looked well on course to progress into the Champions League play-offs when Alfredo Morelos’ header levelled the tie on 19 minutes, before Bonke Innocent’s rather harsh dismissal for two bookable offences on the stroke of half-time left the hosts with a man advantage.
But, just as they did in last week’s first leg in Sweden, a sloppy start to the second half cost Rangers dear as two clinical finishes from striker Antonio Colak turned the game and the tie on its head in the space of four minutes.
Malmo’s remarkable turnaround left the near-capacity crowd, inside Ibrox for the first time since March 2020, and Steven Gerrard’s players, shell-shocked, and there was no way back as the Swedish champions sealed a play-off tie with Ludogorets.
Rangers, who have now lost three games in a row after Saturday’s league defeat to Dundee United, face another season of Europa League football but must overcome either FC Kairat Almaty or Alashkert FC in the play-offs to avoid dropping into the inaugural Europa Conference League.
Rangers: McGregor (5), Tavernier (5), Goldson (5), Balogun (5), Barisic (6), Davis (6), Aribo (6), Arfield (5), Wright (5), Morelos (6), Kent (5).
Subs: Hagi (5), Sakala (5).
Malmo: Dahlin (6), Lewicki (6), Ahmedhodzic (6), Nielsen (6), Moisander (6), Veljko (6), Innocent (3), Christiansen (6), Rieks (7), Colak (9), Berget (6).
Subs: Rakip (5), Beijmo (n/a), Abubakari (n/a).
Man of the Match: Antonio Colak
Champions League hopes slip through Rangers’ fingers
Morelos, restored to the Rangers starting line-up after missing the first leg, set the tone for a relentless start from the hosts, harassing and harrying the Malmo defence and presenting Joe Aribo with the game’s first opening inside three minutes, which was deflected behind for a corner.
The fever-pitched atmosphere inside Ibrox reached a crescendo on 18 minutes when a quick free-kick led to Ryan Kent’s in-swinging cross reaching the head of Morelos, who stooped to head in his 24th European goal for the club, despite goalkeeper Johan Dahlin getting a hand to the ball.
Allan McGregor, Leon Balogun, Scott Arfield and Scott Wright returned as Rangers made four changes from the Scottish Premiership at Dundee United.
Counterpart Allan McGregor in the Rangers goal was fortunate only to see yellow after he was adjudged to have handled the ball outside the area, with the incident swinging momentum in Malmo’s favour having spent the opening 34 minutes on the back foot.
Colak guided a free header over the bar as Malmo finally came out of their shell and showed glimpses of their form which saw them prevail in the first leg, but just as they looked to have reached the interval without sustaining further damage, the tie tipped back towards Rangers.
Midfielder Innocent, booked four minutes earlier, was shown a harsh second yellow for a high challenge on Connor Goldson, a decision which left manager Jon Dahl Tomasson incensed and handed the numerical advantage to Rangers.
The platform was there for Rangers to put the tie to bed in the second period, but they were stunned within eight minutes of the restart when Veljko Birmancevic’s brilliant reverse pass played in Colak, who fired emphatically past McGregor from the angle.
Four minutes after restoring their first-leg advantage Malmo struck again, as Colak drifted effortlessly past the stationary Leon Balogun, swivelled, and rifled his second past McGregor.
It left Rangers needing to score two unanswered goals to salvage their Champions League campaign but, despite coming under intense pressure, Malmo stood firm, restricting the hosts to a solitary blocked Morelos shot before Rangers’ challenge finally ended amid a chorus of boos at Ibrox.
What the manager said…
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard: “In terms of our performance, it was certainly a game of two halves. I thought we were really good in the first-half and started the game ever so well.
“The crowd were terrific and we have gone in at half-time exactly where we wanted to be. We’ve got two restarts in the second-half badly wrong from throw-in situations.
“At this level, good players and decent teams hurt you and that’s what happened tonight.”
‘Every expectation Rangers would win’
Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd:
“Rangers at half-time, with that man advantage, the goal, winning the game and level in the tie, you’d expect them to come out [and win], but to be honest, Malmo have a lot of experienced players in their team and they needed it.
“Colak up front scored two fantastic goals, but the second one, there’s no excuse for it from Leon Balogun. It’s from a throw-in and he’s got to have someone in front, protecting him. As soon as it’s played into Colak, he turns and Joe Aribo tries to get back but it’s a fantastic turn and finish.
“Rangers didn’t create much in the second half. They look like a team that huffed and puffed for the majority.”
Rangers host Dunfermline in the second round of the Scottish League Cup on Friday at 7.30pm, before travelling to Ross County in the Scottish Premiership the following Saturday at 3pm.