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Steven Gerrard's Rangers edge closer to Europa League group stages after crucial first-leg win

Alfredo Morelos’ header secured victory for Rangers as they prepare for the second leg at Ibrox.

Image: Ian Rutherford

RANGERS TOOK ANOTHER step towards the Europa League group stage with a precious 1-0 first-leg win at Osijek in the second qualifying round on Thursday.

Alfredo Morelos’ first-half header gave Steven Gerrard’s side the advantage to take back to Ibrox for next week’s return encounter.

The 18th-minute effort, which came courtesy of a James Tavernier cross, ended an early period of nerves that had threatened to unravel their hopes of building on the first-round success against Macedonian minnows Shkupi.

Osijek started the brighter of the two sides on home soil and carved out a pair of promising opportunities in the opening 15 minutes.

Mirko Maric was the culprit for missing both, the striker first volleying over the bar from close-range and then wastefully turning wide on the end of a classy one-touch move.

And the Croatian outfit were made to pay for their profligacy, Morelos soon nodding Tavernier’s right-sided delivery into the bottom-left corner.

Rangers retained their lead at the break but would again face a period of scrutiny as Osijek lifted the tempo in search of an equaliser.

Defender Tavernier crucially steered a goal-bound Alen Grgic effort off the line within four minutes of the restart before Allan McGregor came to the rescue with a fine save with his feet as the ever-present Maric attempted to sneak a shot inside the near post.

Gerrard’s men managed to settle the contest after those scares and, despite the occasional concerning moment in the latter stages, were comfortable enough in sealing a lead that should see them through to the third qualifying round.

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