Shelbourne v Rangers UEFA Cup Qualifier
Summer of 1998 was to be a time of monumental change for Rangers. Manager Walter Smith had already announced his intention to step away in time for the new season and following the club’s failure to secure a 10th successive Scottish League title, there was also to be wholesale changes in the playing squad. The likes of Richard Gough, Ally McCoist, Ian Durrant and Andy Goram were all destined for pastures new, and with their departure, the club aimed to implement an entirely new strategy.
Whilst Rangers were dominant in the domestic environment, the European scene had brought consistently poor performances ever since the Light Blues’ magnificent Champions League campaign of 1992-93. The new Manager would require European pedigree and names such as Terry Venables, Marcelo Lippi and Sven Goran Eriksson were mentioned in relation to the Ibrox vacancy, but the man chosen was Dutchman Dick Advocaat.
The excitement was almost tangible. After all, Advocaat was a man who had begun his coaching career as an assistant to Rinus Michels, who had taken Holland to the 1994 World Cup as a Manager in his own right and in more recent times, guided PSV to the Eredivisie title.
With a new Manager came an avalanche of not just signings, but big money acquisitions of proven International players. In the space of less than a month, Rangers’ transfer record was broken no fewer than three times, bringing in Arthur Numan, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Andrei Kanchelskis.
Any ambitions Rangers had for the Champions League would have to be put on hold for the time being, as the Light Blues entered the UEFA Cup at the 1st Qualifying Round. They were paired with Irish cracks Shelbourne.
With the 1st Leg due to be played at Shels’ Tolka Park, immediately, there were fears for fan safety. Just a week before the match was to take place, the Dublin side conceded they were unable to stage the game on home soil and the first leg was officially postponed.
Venue: Prenton Park, Tranmere
Only the following day, the Dubliners were able to announce that they had successfully negotiated with Tranmere Rovers’ for the use of their Prenton Park ground, satisfying both Rangers and UEFA. The match was back on and would be played at the originally intended date – July 22nd.
Managed by Dermot Keely, Shelbourne lined up: Alan Gough; Dave Smith, Tony McCarthy, Pat Scully, Declan Geoghegan; Dessie Baker, Dean Fitzgerald, Liam Kelly, Pat Fenlon, Mark Rutherford; Pat Morley.
Rangers’ XI read: Antti Niemi; Sergio Porrini, Lorenzo Amoruso, Gordan Petric, Giovanni van Bronckhorst; Rino Gattuso, Barry Ferguson, Jonas Thern, Jorg Albertz; David Graham, Gordon Durie.
The Referee was Romania’s Viorel Anghelinei.
Rangers were on the offensive from the off. Durie broke down the right side, delivering a ball for David Graham, a product of the youth set-up making his professional debut, but his effort was blocked.
Two minutes later and the Irishmen enjoyed their first chance. A dangerous ball was played into the Rangers box by Dessie Baker, it evaded not only Jorg Albertz but also an onrushing Shels forward. It progressed all the way to Porrini at the back post who had lost his man, and, apparently, also his bearings as he attempted to head the ball back to his Goalkeeper. Instead, he nodded it past the Finn and into the net, handing Shelbourne a goal start.
Liam Kelly, a forward who had been deployed in a deeper role, was putting in an admirable shift and denied the Glasgow men of any clear-cut goalscoring opportunities. Gough was called into action to touch over a long-range Gordon Durie strike from a tight angle. On the 20 minute mark, the “home” side could have had another if there was anyone on-hand to provide a finish for another dangerous Baker cross.
3 minutes from half-time, Shels won their first corner. Baker, star of the Irish Republic’s side which had achieved 3rd place at the previous year’s Youth World Cup, and Rutherford had provided their side’s most creative outlet on the right flank. A high searching ball was sent towards the back post. Tony McCarthy beat everyone to it to head back towards goal. The Light Blues failed to deal with it, and the ball trickled through for Englishman Rutherford who lashed it into the roof of the net from close range.
Advocaat decided to the shuffle the pack at half time, introducing Jonatan Johansson and Gabriel Amato at the break, withdrawing Graham and Gattuso.
The duo made an almost instant impact. Amato carved out an opportunity for the Finn, but his shot forced another impressive save from Gough.
Any notion that Shelbourne would simply sit back and cling on for dear life was shortly dispelled. Pat Fenlon split the Rangers defence wide open with a pass and set Morley free. The forward, whilst fending off Jonas Thern, dinked the ball beyond the onrushing Niemi and incredibly, Rangers were 3-0 down with not even an hour played.
The response was almost instant. A corner from the left side by Albertz was adjudged to have been defended by the use of an arm by McCarthy, and without hesitation, the referee pointed to the spot. Albertz himself stepped up, sent the ‘Keeper the wrong way to reduce the arrears to two.
Two minutes later, and Albertz was standing over another set-piece. His corner was picked up by Amato who played the ball back into the danger area. Petric drove a shot goalwards which was saved by Gough. The ball went only as far as the Argentine who hammered the ball into the ground, looping over the retreating defenders and seemingly stopped on the line by the ‘Keeper. The officials disagreed and concluded that a goal had been scored. 3-2.
It certainly appeared now that the Dublin men had been well and truly shaken. Van Bronckhorst strode forward without much challenge from his left-back position, dumped the ball into Amato, and carried on his run to slot the return pass beyond Gough at his near post. 16 minutes after going three goals down, Rangers were now level.
Now with 6,000 travelling fans roaring behind them, Rangers were firmly in the ascendency. With 8 minutes left on the clock, Johansson crossed to the back post, finding Amato unmarked who made a diving header to put the Ibrox men in-front.
Three minutes later, and Rangers had yet another corner. Albertz delivered, and again McCarthy struck the ball with an arm, conceding his second penalty of the night. The German himself stepped up and converted a nigh-on identical spot kick.
As the rain poured down on a remarkable night in Birkenhead, the ref brought proceedings to a close. 5-3 was the score in what was one of the most remarkable comebacks in UEFA Cup history. The Light Blues would progress all the way to the 3rd Round where they were eliminated by Parma. On the domestic front, Advocaat could not have wished for a better start. All three trophies were secured, including a famous League clincher at Parkhead.