FC Bocholt 1 Rangers 3. MICHAEL Mols made a successful return last night, scoring the opening goal in a 3-1 victory over German fourth division side FC Bocholt and showing he is well on course to making a full recovery from the cruciate injury that sidelined him for eight months.
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The Dutchman played only 32 minutes since hurting his knee in the Champions League encounter with Bayern Munich but there was no adverse reaction despite his lengthy hiatus, and his recovery will continue tonight against Dutch side Quick Twente.
Mols suggested before flying to Amsterdam that he may require a clean-up operation but after a visit to the specialist who carried out the operation, he was given the all-clear to step up his rehabilitation, although the club will carefully monitor his condition during a gruelling week's preparation before making a decision on his readiness to start the new season.
Manager Dick Advocaat was in Lithuania last night running the rule over the club's potential Champions League second qualifying round opponents as Kauna defeated visiting Bosnian NK Brotnjo 4-0 in the first leg of their qualifying round tie but he will have been pleased by reports from his assistant Bert van Lingen.
''It's a good start for Mols but the plan has always been to gauge his behaviour in specific match situations all this week,'' said van Lingen. ''He has done individual work but we'll wait until the end of the week to see how he is.''
Bocholt's training pitch was a far cry from the Olympic Stadium, the arena in which Mols' injury nightmare began when he landed awkwardly after a sliding tackle from Munich goalkeeper Olivier Kahn. However while he looks forward to restarting his Rangers career, the end of the road is nigh for Italian striker Marco Negri. He appeared to be working his way back into favour after scoring in the closed-door friendly match against Livingston but he was left out of the travelling party for the pre-season tour of the Netherlands and has instead been ordered to train with the under-21 squad.
Negri was substituted after 45 minutes against Belgian side Ghent on Friday evening and was told to stay at home and train with the second string by Advocaat.
The manager has clearly lost patience with the club's great enigma and David Murray may be of a mind to cut his losses and free the 29-year-old.
Said van Lingen: ''He will train with John Brown and John McGregor to try and find the fitness that has been lost. This trip was with the Champions League preliminary tie in mind and he is not at that stage yet.''
Mols took only four minutes to get back among the goals, demonstrating that he has lost none of his dexterity with a trademark swivel and shot that nestled in the corner of the net to the delight of the small band of travelling fans.
His team-mates looked just as happy as he was to mark his comeback with a goal and, during his half-hour workout, Mols' confidence grew as his leg withstood some meaty challenges.
Although understandably short of match sharpness, he nevertheless looked lively and twisted and turned freely.
Neil McCann enjoyed plenty of possession during a sterile opening half. The winger, keen to impress having spent the end of last season on the bench and facing fresh competition in the form of international colleague Allan Johnston, set up Rod Wallace after six minutes. He skipped past full back Andreas Blaumann and delivered a perfect cross which Wallace scooped over the bar from only a couple of yards out.
The Englishman had an opportunity to make amends immediately after with McCann again providing the ammunition but he was off target from close range, this time with a header. McCann should have doubled Rangers advantage moments later when Wallace sprung the offside trap and found the wide man via a Mols deflection but despite doing the difficult part in rounding goalkeeper Thorsten Albustin, his side-footed effort from a tight angle was blocked.
He was chopped down after embarrassing Blaumann once too often but he dusted himself down and continued shuttling down the flank leaving the weary opponent in his slipstream. But it was to prove third time lucky for Wallace when, in 25 minutes, he could not fail to miss after McCann's deep cross was missed by the keeper with the little striker in position to nudge the ball into the goal.
Jorg Albertz completed the first-half scoring with a typically thunderous drive from outside the box and the team had to negotiate a throng of autograph hunters and drunken well wishers - some of whom left their trousers on their seats in a variation of a stereotypical German trait. Sergio Porrini, Dariusz Adamczuk, Paul Ritchie, Billy Dodds, Andrei Kanchelskis, and Allan Johnston joined Jonatan Johansson - Mols' replacement -for a run out after the break.
Charbonnier was beaten when Frank Sharf netted a second-half goal but despite that blemish it did not dampen the enthusiasm of the travelling fans, heartened by the return of the club's No.1 striker.
Rangers - Charbonnier, Ricksen, Vidmar, Wilson, Moore, Tugay, Ferguson, Albertz, McCann, Mols, Wallace. Substitutes - Miller, Johansson, Porrini, Dodds, Kanchelskis, Adamczuk, Ritchie, Johnston, Klos.