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Rivals' arrogance fired up my Rangers for Europa League progress, reveals Gerrard

Rangers 1 NK Osijek 1

By Ronnie Esplin

Steven Gerrard claimed loud-mouthed Osijek played into Rangers' hands with their cocky pre-match comments.

The Croatians' midfielder Robert Mudrazija said his side were "better, stronger, more skilful" than Rangers while boss Zoran Zekic also had plenty to say ahead of their Europa League showdown at Ibrox.

But it was Gerrard's men who claimed the 2-1 aggregate triumph after a 1-1 draw in Glasgow to tee up a third qualifying round clash with Slovenians Maribor.

Gerrard said: "Talking doesn't win you football matches, it doesn't get you results. Sometimes it doesn't help your players, it just motivates the opposition.

"We thrive on all that kind of talk. We enjoyed it. My players came out and played like men and we did our talking on the pitch.

"I'm absolutely delighted with the players and now it's all about dusting ourselves down for a big game (against Aberdeen) at the weekend."

Centre-half Nikola Katic helped kill off Osijek as the centre-half headed home from close range eight minutes into the second half as the Light Blues extended the lead given to them by Alfredo Morelos' first-leg strike.

Borna Barisic became the first player to net against Gerrard's Gers with his last-minute strike, but the hosts clung on for a 2-1 aggregate win to set up that metting with Maribor.

With only a slender lead from last week's clash at the City Garden Stadium, there was always bound to be an anxious air around Ibrox.

Lassana Coulibaly should have settled the nerves just four minutes in, but he blazed over from close range after being picked out from Ryan Kent's corner-kick.

Osijek's pressing early on forced Gers deep, but it was the hosts who almost came close to landing a sucker punch as Ryan Jack sent Morelos scampering in behind.

The angle was against the Colombian, though, as Osijek goalkeeper Marko Malenica gathered his low strike, doing the same when Daniel Candeias pulled the trigger from the edge of the box.

It was tense, competitive stuff. The Light Blues faithful held their collective breath after 18 minutes when Ovie Ejaria tried to be too clever on halfway. His attempted flick was picked off and Osijek flooded forward.

It took a brave block from Allan McGregor to deny Mudrazija, while the keeper had to bail out Gers again seven minutes before the break as his defence went to sleep, first pulling off an acrobatic stop to deny Ezekiel Henty before leaping up to parry Petar Bockaj's follow-up.

But having survived those scares, Rangers grew in confidence.

Only a last-gasp lunge by Alex Grgic early in the second period stopped Kent delivering a devastating blow as he connected with Coulibaly's ball to the back post.

But that only delayed the inevitable and from the resulting corner Gers struck.

Malenica missed his attempted punched from Kent's delivery, Morelos nodded the ball back into the danger area and Katic got the decisive touch with his head to put daylight between the sides.

Some more composure might have seen them put the tie to bed completely, but Kent slashed at fresh air while Coulibaly almost hit the corner flag as two decent openings came and went in embarrassing fashion.

Morelos let his frustration show when Kent's hesitation in releasing his pass cost the striker the chance of a run-in on goal.

Ejaria hardly did him any favours moments later as his over-hit ball in behind left Morelos with only the side-netting to aim at.

The tension rose in the final minute when Barisic fired a deflected shot past McGregor to become the first player to net against Gerrard's Gers, but the hosts held on to progress.

• Emergency services were called to deal with mass brawls and violence outside Ibrox in the build-up to last night's clash with Osijek.

Footage on social media appeared to show fights between some fans of the two clubs ahead of the second qualifying round second-leg tie.

Film uploaded to Twitter appeared to show one apparent supporter being kicked about the body while lying prone on the road, while another was seen running around holding and waving a flare.

Police officers could be seen lining Paisley Road West and Edmiston Drive on the approach to the stadium.

Witness Marianne Chirray wrote on Twitter: "Ibrox is chaotic right now!!! Flares being thrown, people getting kicked in the head - nightmare!"

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