Rangers secured their passage into the last 16 of the Europa League after yet another incredible tie against Royal Antwerp of Belgium produced another goal-laden game.
The match in Belgium last week finished 4-3 to Rangers, and many did not see another high scoring game, but the two clubs traded high scoring blows yet again in a match that saw Rangers win 5-2 on the night – and win 9-5 on aggregate.
The match had everything from goals, a contribution from Alfredo Morelos that secured his involvement in eight of the nine goals over the two legs and an incredible return to first team action from Nathan Patterson merely days after many questioned if he’d ever play for the club again.
Steven Gerrard made one change to his starting eleven from the side which started against Dundee United on Sunday, with Glen Kamara coming in for the injured Ryan Jack.
Rangers got off to best possible start in 9 minutes when Alfredo Morelos profited from some good pressing from Ianis Hagi and Ryan Kent, which allowed the latter to set up the Columbian to pass the ball into the empty net.
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Rangers then dominated proceedings and looked like they were in a comfortable position until Lior Refaelov equalised after some good work from Lukaku had left Leon Balogun exposed on in the right-back position.
The big Nigerian was filling in for James Tavernier who was injured in the first-leg in Belgium last week. Rangers were without Nathan Patterson last week due to his Covid related mischiefs had rendered him unavailable through the need to self-isolate.
Many had assumed the youngster had signed sealed his Ibrox exit with his behaviour. However he was named on the bench tonight and with the unnatural right-back Balogun being targeted by the Belgians, Gerrard decided to act and introduced the youngster for the second-half.
It was a bold move, and one which paid off within 16 seconds of the restart.
Rangers kicked-off and worked the ball to Morelos, who played in the right-back to run in and finish nicely to score his first goal for the club.
It was an incredible moment and a reminder that seven days is a long time in football.
Rangers looked safe at this point and the feeling was that the tie was all but done and dusted when Kent scored the third in the 55th minute.
The move started with a great take and turn from Ianis Hagi who fed the ball to Morelos. The Columbian beat his marker easily and cut it back into the path of Kent who finished neatly from six yards.
It seemed that Rangers had all but secured the tie, but Antwerp hit back immediately thanks to Lamkel Ze.
A great ball from Refaelov allowed Lamkel Ze to get between the onrushing McGregor and Connor Goldson to turn in from a tight angle. The Cameroonian is famous for having tried to force a move from Antwerp by turning up at training wearing a Anderlecht shirt. The stunt didn’t work, and his goal tonight was a reminder that he was sorely missed by the Belgians in the first-leg.
That goal had blown the tie wide open again, and all of a sudden Rangers had gone from a position of comfort to one of feeling relatively safe – but looking over their shoulder.
However Rangers responded positively and got their fourth on 78 minutes from a penalty after Alfredo Morelos was yet again involved in when he was fouled by Maxime Le Marchand. Referee Paweł Raczkowski had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Borna Barisic converted to score his third penalty of the tie.
That pretty much sealed the proceedings at 8-5 on aggregate, but Rangers were not finished yet.
Scott Wright, who had come on for the impressive Ryan Kent with ten minutes remaining, ran down the right flank in the closing stages of injury time and cut into the box, only to be fouled by Nana Ampomah.
Barisic waved the responsibility on this occasion to allow Cedric Itten, who had replaced Morelos with five minutes remaining, to step up and hammer home the fifth on the night.
The win ensures Rangers passage to last 16 of the Europa League, whilst remaining undefeated since their campaign started on 17 September in Gibraltar against Lincoln Red Imps – a total of 11 games.
Steven Gerrard was delighted with his team’s performance stating: "I'm very satisfied, the performance was outstanding in a lot of areas. Some of our play was outstanding, the first three were top high-level goals. But, as a perfectionist, we still have to look at the areas we went wrong in tonight.
"It was probably Alfredo's best performance of the season. He likes this competition. I wouldn't have liked to have marked him, that's for sure. Physicality is a big strength of his. It was a performance off all-round quality."
RANGERS: McGregor; Balogun, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Davis, Aribo, Kamara; Kent, Hagi, Morelos
SUBS: McLaughlin, Wright, Bassey, Itten, Zungu, Patterson, Stewart, Simpson, Arfield, King.
ROYAL ANTWERP: De Wolf, Buta, Gelin, Le Marchand, Lukaku, Hongla, Verstraete, De Laet, Gerkens, Refaelov, Lamkel Ze
SUBS: Boya, Avenatti, Ampomah, Miyoshi
REFEREE: Paweł Raczkowski
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