Novo shuts the door on Graz

Rangers 3 - Graz AK 0
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The Independent Football

Rangers shrugged aside a lethargic first-half display at Ibrox last night to seize pole position in Group F of the Uefa Cup with a workmanlike defeat of Graz AK.

Rangers shrugged aside a lethargic first-half display at Ibrox last night to seize pole position in Group F of the Uefa Cup with a workmanlike defeat of Graz AK.

The modest Austrians had silenced Anfield earlier in the season but once Nacho Novo ended last night's stalemate just before the hour, they buckled and conceded further late goals to Shota Arveladze and Hamed Namouchi.

Arveladze had just come on to the field from the bench when he pounced on the ball in the 86th minute to bundle in Dado Prso's knockdown and Namouchi struck with the final kick of the ball to finish off a fine solo run by Novo. Rangers now go to the Netherlands next Thursday in great heart to face AZ Alkmaar.

After their 5-1 win in Poland for their opening match in this group, Rangers failed to deliver the performance of stature that the Ibrox crowd had expected.

It took them 17 minutes before they even registered a shot on target and even then Graz goalkeeper Andreas Schranz had the measure of Bob Malcolm's long-range effort.

Marvin Andrews scuffed a shot into Schranz's arms just after the half hour, but the more composed visitors induced panic with Mario Bazina's breakaway and fine pass to Joachim Standfest, who was denied a goal by the vigilance of Stefan Klos.

Bazina struck a fierce volley just over the bar as Graz offered a reminder of the team that won at Liverpool earlier in the season.

Rangers stepped up the tempo after the interval and while Malcolm's free-kick did not test Schranz, it at least sent out a signal of intent.

Then Rangers finally made the breakthrough in the 57th minute. Fernando Ricksen swept in a free-kick from the left flank which picked out the run of Novo, coming in at the back post and he steered in a right-footed shot.

Prso then drew a save from Schranz with a raking shot and Graz brought on Samir Muratovic and Matthias Dollinger to try to inject some fresh impetus into their attack and the latter carved out a chance for Kollman in the 73rd minute with a fine cross but the striker's header was kept out by Klos.

AZ Alkmaar kept up the pressure on Rangers at the top of the group with a 3-1 away win over Amica Wronki, of Poland. The Dutch side were 3-0 up by half-time thanks to goals from Barry Van Galen, Martijn Meerdink and Stein Huysegems.

Rangers (4-4-2): Klos; Khizanishvili, Andrews, Boumsong, Vignal (Ball, 28); Namouchi, Ricksen, Malcolm, Lovenkrands (Arveladze, 77); Prso, Novo. Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Mladenovic, Hutton, Hughes.

Graz AK (4-4-2): Schranz; Plassenegger, Ehmann (Skoro, 81), Tokic, Pogatetz; Standfest (Dollinger, 71), Sick, Aufhauser (Muratovic, 69), Amerhauser; Kollman, Bazina. Substitutes not used: Almer (gk), Poetscher, Ramusch, Muratovic, Skoro, Dollinger, Majstorovic.

Referee: Benquerenca (Portugal).

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