Rangers missed the chance to secure their place in the Europa League knockouts, with Ross McCausland’s strike securing a 1-1 draw with Aris Limassol.
It had been 55 days since Aris had beaten Rangers in Cyprus but this time they faced a rejuvenated Gers who were unbeaten under Philippe Clement.
Such has been their form, the hosts needed a win on Thursday to secure their place in Group C’s top two and the knockout rounds.
But they went behind in the 28th minute as Shavy Babicka easily rounded Jack Butland to see Aris ahead. It led Clement to make a rare first-half change with McCausland replacing Todd Cantwell in the 36th minute.
The 20-year-old – who recently signed a new deal with Rangers – justified his introduction when he equalised for the hosts four minutes after the break.
It was McCausland’s first senior goal too, and he told TNT Sports: “I didn’t think I’d get on as soon as I did but I’m chuffed to be able to come on so early and have an impact on the game.
“I was thinking about it on the bus today that if I got on, I’d love to score. Over the past week, we’ve been talking about how the next milestone to achieve is a goal for Rangers so I’m glad I’ve been able to get that [on Thursday].
“The manager told me wanted me to be direct, give the team a bit of width and keep doing what I’ve been doing.
“A couple of years ago, I would not have thought I’d be in this situation I’m in today so I’m proud as punch with myself and I’m delighted to be getting all these opportunities.”
But neither side were able to add another, and qualification for the knockout rounds will go down to the final gameweek on December 14. Rangers, who remain second in Group C by a point, must ultimately win against group leaders Real Betis in Spain to ensure they finish in the top two.
However, the result does ensure they have at least a place in the Europa Conference League confirmed for 2024. Aris, meanwhile, have been knocked out of Europe this season.
Clement: No problem with Cantwell
Rangers manager Clement offered his own insight into why he made the change in the first half, telling TNT Sports: “We didn’t create any depth on the right side. Todd (Cantwell) was coming into the ball all the time and that wasn’t the idea because then we create an easy game for them.
“So I wanted more width on the right side also and to create more actions behind their defence, which Ross did in a good way. He scored the goal like that by being high and it is important in our football.
“It’s an impossible job to have everyone happy. There are 11 places every three days, but it is the players who show themselves in every game and every training who will get the most chances to play.
“There is no problem with Todd, he did a good job in the last couple of weeks. Today was less good and another guy comes in and he does a job for the team, and we are a team together.
“We all want to win… We have qualified in Europe after today and that’s important that we are in Europe after the winter break. But we still have a tough game in Betis where we can play for first place.
“I understand that people are frustrated because you feel like we just needed that one moment to win the game and that’s what I missed today in the last 30 metres of the field. We were not decisive or precise enough and we didn’t score the second goal.”
How Rangers were made to wait for qualification
Rangers saw a series of early near misses, with Aris offering their first warning in 11th minute. Defender Caju fired an impressive effort goalwards, with Jack Butland needing to be at full stretch to keep it out.
The hosts’ best chance of the half came in the 27th minute, as Abdallah Sima poked the ball into John Lundstram’s path, but he fizzed an effort just wide of the post.
A minute later, Aris made their danger on the break count. Aleksandr Kokorin pinged the ball forward for the run of Babicka, who split in between the two centre-backs. He only had Butland to beat, confidently rounding the goalkeeper before slotting into the open net.
Philippe Clement did try and inject something new into his side as they hunted for an equaliser as McCausland came on for Cantwell. While it may not have immediately paid off, four minutes after the break, McCausland proved his worth with the equaliser.
Rangers team news
- Rangers made three changes. John Souttar and Ben Davies came in at centre-back in place of the suspended Connor Goldson and Leon Balogun, who isn’t named in the Europa League squad.
- Sam Lammers also replaced Tom Lawrence, who was named on the bench.
Danilo picked up the ball from a throw-in, before picking out the 20-year-old over on the right of the area. He bought himself half a yard before firing home via the far post.
Rangers continued to see half chances. Just after the hour, Danilo was found inside the area with a fine scooped ball, but he could not get the ball under his control as the goalkeeper collected.
But neither they or Aris were able to score another, which did neither’s Europa League hopes much good as the points were shared.
Opta stats – Goalscorers make history
- Ross McCausland (20y 202d) is the youngest player to score for Rangers in major European competition since Nathan Patterson’s (19y 132d) strike against Royal Antwerp in February 2021, also coming in the Europa League.
- Ross McCausland is the youngest Northern Irish player (20 years, 202 days) to score in major European competition since Michael O’Neill in 1989 in the UEFA Cup (20 years, 118 days); O’Neill gave McCausland his Northern Ireland debut earlier this month.
- Shavy Babicka is the first player to score three goals for a Cypriot team in major European competition across a single season since Emilio Zelaya in 2018-19 for Apollon Limassol.
Rangers host St Mirren in the Scottish Premiership on Sunday; kick-off 3pm. They complete their Europa League campaign away to Real Betis on Thursday December 14; kick-off 8pm.