Fashion Sakala proves Rangers raw as mince lightweight and Aaron Ramsey question rings loud – Keith Jackson’s big match verdict

Gio van Bronckhorst got away with one last night.

One goal conceded but a tie still in the balance and the chance still to make it into the semi-finals of the Europa League.

That’s not a bad return at all from a night which showed the Rangers manager is still searching for answers to issues which have remained unsolved ever since he took on the task of replacing Steven Gerrard in the dugout, midway through a season of unresolved dilemmas for Scotland’s Champions.

Back then, the big question used to be, how do you solve a problem like Alfredo Morelos.

And often, during his time in charge, even Gerrard seemed to be totally flummoxed by it.

Indeed, it is to the credit of van Bronckhorst that this riddle has been turned on its head. These days, it’s become a matter of how does he fix a problem like not having the Colombian spearheading Rangers’ attack.

Van Bronckhorst, though, continues in the seemingly fruitless quest to ram square pegs into round holes.

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He tried Kemar Roofe at the weekend against Celtic and came up short. So Van Bronckhorst twisted again last night when he stuck between a rock and a hard place in this unique arena, carved into a slab of a Portuguese stone.

This time, it was Fashion Sakala who was asked to add some pace to the Dutchman’s attack but even though the striker is an undoubted speed merchant, he is also as raw as a pound of Zambian mince.

He’s also a lightweight replacement for a man who has taken on the mantle of a Europa League heavyweight.

The truth is, neither Sakala nor Roofe is equipped to provide what Morelos does for this team but rather than find another way of functioning, van Bronckhorst seems to be resigned to doing nothing much more than changing personnel, crossing his fingers and hoping for the best .

That he also opted to leave both Joe Aribo and Aaron Ramsey out of his starting XI last night was another puzzler.

If Ramsey – who at least managed to find the back of Joe Hart’s net on an otherwise dismal Sunday – was not recruited for nights like this then it does beg the question, why did Rangers bring him in at all during that error-prone January transfer windows? And, even if Aribo has failed to recapture his stunning early season form since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, are Rangers really better off without his 20-20 vision and wizardry, immaculate close control of him?

Rangers started brightly enough but even though they more than held their own for the first 20 minutes or so, their fundamental problems remained glaringly obvious to the casual observer. Sakala couldn’t hold the ball up or bring team-mates into play.

The only surprise was he stayed on the pitch for 61 minutes before departing as part of a triple substitution.

But by then Rangers were already 1-0 down and running out of serious answers.

The goal they lost towards the end of the first half was another sign of a team which is struggling to rediscover its own confidence.

It was a ragged concession with Leon Balogun forced into a panic-stricken error before Abel Ruiz curled a superb finish beyond the reach of Allan McGregor.

Rangers failed to find their own rhythm but still did enough to trouble a Portuguese defense which looks as if it might be brittle when this tie comes down to the wire next Thursday night back at Ibrox.

In fact, towards the end of last night’s first leg, they were wobbling again even though ‘Alfredo lite’ Rangers were
struggling to put meaningful attacks together. Had Connor Goldson kept his concentration then he might have leveled the scores in 70 minutes when he was picked out by the only James Tavernier set-piece that made its mark all night.

But even though that chance floated wide of the target the truth of the matter is that this tie remains in the balance and when the lights are turned on at Ibrox next week, Rangers will find themselves presented with a chance to make a little piece of history .

They ought to be good enough to seize it with both hands and reach the hallowed last four.

But that may depend on van Bronckhorst solving a Bufalo sized problem.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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