James Tavernier’s equalizer sent Rangers into the Champions League the playoffs as a better second-half performance in Switzerland helped them overcome Servette. Tavernier’s header five minutes after the break sealed a 1-1 draw that gave Michael Beale’s side a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Rangers failed to test the goalkeeper at home in the first half and could have been further behind in the interval, but they were the better team after the break and had chances to win the second leg .
The result sets Rangers up for a repeat of last year qualifying against PSV Eindhoven as the Premiership runners-up aim for a second straight campaign in the group stage.
“We didn’t do well enough in the first half. I thought we were passive and obviously they scored and the crowd was in the stadium,” Beale told Rangers TV.
“We were much better in the second half, we brought the full-backs up. Thick headed [Barisic]a fantastic cross, and Tav, something we’ve seen for a number of years, it was a wonderful goal.
“It was a tough night. The pitch was extreme and the pitch was very slow and sticky, the home fans were in place. We had to dig deep and we got the job done. When you’re down 1-0, you’re looking for a response from the players and we definitely got it after half time.
Beale brought Connor Goldson and Ryan Jack back to the squad after resting the pair for Saturday’s league defeat Livingston and the Rangers manager changed his formation from the team’s usual 4-3-3 to a midfield diamond led by Todd Cantwell. Danilo and Abdallah Sima started in front.
Beale had said they had come to Geneva to win the game and Rangers attacked early on, but José Cifuentes missed a left-footed effort on their first shot chance. The visitors were quickly cut off by a clever move, but Jack Butland made a brilliant save from deep to prevent Timothé Cognat.
The home side took the lead midway through the half. John Souttar emerged second in a challenge after a long ball and Cifuentes and Tavernier were slow to react to danger after a blocked shot. Derek Kutesa had the time and space to execute a glorious finish in the top corner.
The unmarked Danilo had a chance to equalize on the half-hour mark but the Brazilian missed the target from inside the penalty area after Cifuentes’ deep cross.
Servette could have gone ahead in the draw when Souttar was caught trying to play offside as Kutesa ran a ball deep just inside his own half. The goalscorer forced a good save from Butland from a tight angle but had a completely unmarked team-mate in the middle.
Rangers maintained their formation at the start of the second half but showed more urgency and Nicolas Raskin and Cantwell had saved efforts before Tavernier found himself in front of his marker and headed home from close range after Barisic whipped a dangerous cross.
Rangers looked comfortable and Raskin fired wide from half a chance before substitute Cyriel Dessers missed two decent chances. The Nigerian striker took the lead then hit the post from eight yards out after being set up by Cantwell.
Servette managed to put some late pressure on but Rangers held on and the hosts missed two decent chances in quick succession in stoppage time. Beale’s side will now host PSV at Ibrox in the first leg of the qualifiers next Tuesday.