ROSS McCAUSLAND has had worse weeks.
Just days after bagging a bumper new deal, the 20-year-old climbed off the bench to net the goal that guarantees Rangers European football after Christmas.
Credit: Willie Vass
Todd Cantwell wasn’t happy to be hauled off in first halfCredit: Getty
Philippe Clement made huge call to sub Cantwell so earlyCredit: Rex
Whether they’re still in the Europa League or down in the Conference will be settled in Seville in two week’s time.
Gers had hoped to return to the scene of the 2022 final with their passports to the last 32 already stamped.
But for the second time in just 56 days Limassol returned to bite them in the Aris.
Back in October, boss Aleksey Shpilevsy masterminded a famous victory in the Alphamega Stadium.
On a freezing night at Ibrox, he watched as his side stormed into a first half lead.
Todd Cantwell was culpable – caught in possession allowing the visitors to break.
Following a touchline bust up with boss Philippe Clement, his match came to an abrupt end.
McCausland was his replacement – and ultimately Rangers’ saviour.
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On Tuesday, the Northern Ireland international put pen to paper on a new long term deal – just 48 hours later he marked it with his first ever goal for his boyhood heroes.
Yet there is no disguising the disappointment.
It’s a result which has thrown Group C wide open – leaving Gers potentially needing to beat Betis in Spain.
A win for Limassol against Sparta Prague would also seal a place in the last 32.
The worst Rangers can do is now finish third – a win in Spain would secure top spot.
Just three days before the Viaplay Cup Final, it’s far from the ideal scenario – but one they must now deal with.
Phase one for new boss Clement concluded with six wins and a draw – with 18 goals scored and just three conceded.
Phase two began with a hard fought 1-1 draw against Aberdeen on Sunday.
It was the first of 12 games in just 38 days for a Rangers side far removed from the one that faced Aris in Limassol back in October.
Back then, Gers were a club in crisis.
Michael Beale had been sacked, his side humiliated by Aberdeen just five days before.
A costly 2-1 defeat in Cyprus, left them with a mountain to climb in Europe.
But four points from six against Sparta Prague put the knock-out stages back within sight.
Sparta’s win over Betis earlier in the evening meant Rangers would move to the top of the table with victory over Limassol.
Clement made three changes to the side that faced Aberdeen at the weekend.
Sam Lammers, Ben Davies and John Souttar all returned with the suspended Connor Goldson and the ineligible Leon Balogun dropping out.
Clement had called for a fast start – but he got the exact opposite.
Rangers were slow and sluggish in everything they did, and as a result they found themselves behind at the break.
The warning signs were there early on.
Mihlali Mayambela’s pace was causing Borna Barisic some problems and with 11 minutes gone, his cut back found Caju lurking on the edge of the box.
His powerful shot was beaten away by Jack Butland.
With Aleksandr Kokorin pulling the strings, the visitors always looked dangerous on the break.
In midfield for Rangers, Cantwell, Jose Cifuentes and Sam Lammers were all well off the pace.
Danilo tried to play in Abdallah Sima before Souttar was presented with a half chance from a corner.
With 27 minutes gone, Lundstram played a neat one-two with Cantwell on the edge of the box, driving his effort inches past the post.
Just 60 seconds later, disaster struck.
Cantwell was caught in possession and Kokorin found himself with time and space to pick his pass.
He did so superbly, threading the ball between Souttar and Davies to send Babicka scampering clear.
He showed composure to round Butland before rolling the ball into an empty net.
Aris should have added a second when the pace of Mayambela set up a glorious chance for Kokorin.
But the former Zenit St Petersburg man was off balance just as he pulled the trigger.
Cantwell’s match ended with just 36 minutes on the clock.
Clement had spent ten minutes screaming instructions to the midfielder, who didn’t take it kindly.
As a result, his number flashed up and on came McCausland.
Boos rang round the ground with many fans calling for the removal of Lammers instead.
But there was no doubt this was Clement laying down the law.
And just three minutes into the second half, his hardline stance paid off.
When McCausland picked up the ball on the edge of the box there looked little on.
But the 20 year-old – who signed a new deal this week tying him to the Ibrox club until 2027 – shifted the ball onto his left foot, drilling a low shot in off the far post.
It was a magical moment for the youngster as he wheeled away to celebrate his first ever Rangers goal.
Lammers was finally put out of his misery with 58 minutes gone – Tom Lawrence his replacement.
With 64 minutes on the clock, Lawrence picked out McCausland, who again had taken up good position on the edge of the Aris box.
Cutting back inside just once too often, the youngster was crowded out just as he shaped to shoot.
Danilo forced Vana into a decent save as the Brazilian threatened with a back post header.
Rangers fans unveil giant tifo before kick-offCredit: PA
Babicka celebrates his first-half opener for Aris LimassolCredit: AFP
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