RANGERS BATTLE TO STALEMATE IN HOLLAND
Rangers' trip across the North Sea to take on PSV Eindhoven was a successful one as they were able to bring a scoreless tie back to Ibrox for the crucial deciding return match.
American Maurice Edu went the distance for the Scottish champions as Neil Alexander made a rare appearance when he took his spot between the posts in preparation for the upcoming league cup final.
The hosts started off with the intention of taking the game to Walter Smith's team and three minutes in Marcus Berg felt that he had a penalty shout, but Swedish referee Martin Hansson obviously wasn't in as generous a mood as when he handed a World Cup place to France after Thierry Henry handled the ball against Ireland.
A couple minutes later, with all the Farmers' pressure as they pushed forward, Balazs Dzsudzsak outpaced his defender, but the shot was very tame and birthday boy Alexander easily scooped up the effort.
Gers pushed forward for the first time in the eighth minute when Edu booted forward for striker El Hadji Diouf, but the flag came up immediately. The American almost made something out of nothing a minute later when Wilfred Bouma played a lazy ball back to Andreas Isaksson in the Dutch goal but the sprinting Yank was not able to reach it before the Swedish keeper.
Alexander was called into action 15 minutes in when Ola Toivonen played Berg through. The ex-Cardiff City keeper however smothered the ball just as Berg, who is on loan from Hamburg, was able to pull the trigger.
With the visitors sitting the entire team behind the ball PSV found some space on the wing as Jermain Lens whipped in a cross for Berg, but again Alexander denied.
After a couple more half-attempts where Lens got off a shot and then Dzsudzsak did likewise from outside the box, Rangers pushed forward as PSV became frustrated at their inability to breach David Weir and his back line. The Glaswegians charged forward and whipped in a shot that Bouma blocked.
Ten minutes before intermission Lens again got off a shot from the top right side of the box but his enthusiasm was better than his aim as he planted it into the cheap seats.
Canadian Atiba Hutchinson had possibly the best chance of the game when a free kick wide right of the box was whipped in and deflected by the Rangers defense. It fell right to the midfielder at the far post, but as it was not hockey puck, he missed it completely.
The Scots had a half chance just before the intermission when Kyle Hutton fed Richard Foster, but he cut his own angle too much and saw it go out for a corner kick. Diouf delivered however saw it cleared as Hansson blew his whistle.
Foster showed a bit of individual brilliance as he collected the ball in his own half and danced past a few Farmers before whipping in a cross that was close to being an own goal.
Berg missed yet another opportunity to put the hosts ahead when Toivonen slipped the ball to his fellow Swede and the striker hit it with gusto and the crowd cheered prematurely only to see the shot go wide.
Kyle Bartley had an opportunity at the other end minutes later when Diouf's corner kick was headed goal-bound from ten years out. Isaksson managed to get finger tips to it to deny the on-loan Arsenal teenager.
The hour mark saw Dzsudzsak's free kick from the top of the box sizzle past the defense but hit the top of the net from the outside.
Soon afterward Slovak international Vladimir Weiss, back from injury, came on to replace the Senegalese Diouf up front to give the team a bit more youth and pace. The 21-year old, who is still on Manchester City's books, got involved right away and was able to provide some relief for the back line as he pushed forward in a few occasions.
With the clock down to 15 minutes remaining, the Edu charged up the right wing with the ball and eased around a two defenders, but after a trio of PSV defenders ganged up on him, the former Toronto man eventually lost possession.
Next Weiss found Hutton in the middle of the field and the Scotsman picked out sub David Healy who turned his defender and got a shot off but it sailed just wide of the post. A minute earlier the Slovak brought on a bit of Ranger Danger when he took on a pair of defenders in the box, fell over, got up and was again put to the ground. The Swedish ref only turned away.
As the clock wore down the Dutch pushed forward in waves, but like the entire evening, they played the high ball which the Scottish defense had no trouble at all clearing. They ran out of ideas and the clock ran out of time as the game ended in a stalemate.
Edu was nowhere to be found after the game, but Yanks Abroad was able to have a word with both Neil Alexander and then PSV's coach, Fred Rutten.
"I think we deserved the win," the Dutchman said, "but we didn't score. We had our opportunities, three or four times. I know that it's very difficult to score a goal against Rangers but they could have scored [against us] also."
"I think we deserved more but everything is open for the next game."
"[In the next game] I don't think Rangers will change [their system] so it will be a similar game to this one."
Alexander, who will be between the pipes in the League Cup final against archrival Celtic, was happy with his team's performance.
"It was good to keep a clean sheet tonight because it was a really important game for the club. When I got the nod it was important to go in and do my best and get a result. We would have taken that nil-nil result before the kickoff but unfortunately we never got that away goal."
The second leg of the tie will be played at Ibrox Stadium on March 17th.