Match report as Shavy Babicka saw Aris Limassol into a shock lead at Ibrox; 20-year-old Ross McCausland levelled for Rangers after replacing Todd Cantwell in the 36th minute; Rangers must now beat Real Betis in Seville in two weeks to secure their place in the Europa League knockouts
Friday 1 December 2023 10:38, UK
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.
Rangers manager Clement offered his own insight into why he made the change in the first half.
"I had to make a change early, something I don't like to do.
"But we were missing with width on our right side and missing running players in behind the defence there.
"I gave that message a few times to Todd but he kept coming into the ball all the time, so that's why I made the change to put Ross in, who is more of that profile.
"Todd's best position is elsewhere but we have been in the situation where we haven't had a lot of players on the right side.
"Scott Wright was not available, and Ross [McCausland] is coming out of the academy and taking his first steps and he is not ready to shine every three days, and play every 90 minutes; that's impossible.
"And Rabbi Matondo was injured. So we have had a lot of problems in the last couple of weeks. Players are coming back, but we have to work hard.
"I know Todd's best position is as a number 10, or coming off the left side, so I'm really happy with him, what he has showed for the team in the last couple of weeks because he played that position, and he can play that position.
"We have everything to win there.
"We already have European football in the new year but we can also win the group.
"So for sure that is going to be the idea - to win the game and end the group in the right way.
"There are still a few weeks and I have time to think and see what the team situation is."
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.
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.
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.