The Rangers’ long history in Europe hasn’t seen many games as dramatic as this one. On an astonishing night in Antwerp, Steven Gerrard’s team led 1-0 and were 3-2 down before claiming victory by a rare goal in seven.
Borna Barisic’s penalty, his second of the game, means Gerrard can be completely sure of progression to the last 16. Beyond the madness and VAR controls, it should be noted that the Rangers deserved their victory; the circumstances associated with him were simply unusual. A red card from Antwerp and a forced substitution of the goalkeeper served as footnotes.
The Rangers’ preparation was interrupted by the weekend’s breaches of Covid regulations by five of their players. The fact that none of the quintets had started in Belgium despite such misconduct is a key factor, but this was clearly an embarrassment without which the club could have done without. The Rangers haven’t gotten used to so much negativity this good season.
There were reasons for the Rangers’ distress in 25 minutes. James Tavernier, so influential this season, had to retire after injuring his knee. A second forced substitution before halftime saw Kemar Roofe sacked by the Scottish Premiership leaders.
Shortly before half an hour, Alfredo Morelos should have given Rangers the upper hand. Instead, the Colombian forward fired straight at Alireza Beiranvand when he was sent clean on goal. The Antwerp defense was very unconvincing and that quickly developed as a theme. Morelos and Beiranvand were key in the incident that gave the Rangers the upper hand. The Antwerp goalkeeper released the ball by beating Roofe off a long pass from Connor Goldson. Morelos intelligently intervened to prevent Beiranvand from sparing his own blushes. Joe Aribo duly stroked the ball into an unprotected net from 20 yards.
A set piece gave Antwerp parity. Barisic unnecessarily conceded a free kick, which Lior Refaelov deftly shot from the right. Felipe Avenatti’s header was even better, as he passed over the defenseless Allan McGregor.
Given their previous comfort level, the fact that the Rangers were behind at halftime was disconcerting. In the sixth minute of injury time, Steven Davis was judged, very harshly, for having fouled Refaelov inside his own penalty area. Refaelov didn’t exactly need to dust himself off before launching the kick past McGregor.
The ruling party again played an important role when the Rangers scored the second goal that their game deserved. Ritchie De Laet took the Morelos shirt a few meters from the Antwerp goal, with a push from the VAR that allowed Georgi Kabakov to see the foul again. With a well-awarded penalty, Barisic gave the erratic Beiranvand no chance.
The influential Refaelov threw the ball inside the box to Martin Hongla, whose
shot flew into McGregor’s net through a post. Rangers were lazy by not closing
Hongla fell, but she still had reason to wonder how they were behind. Ryan Kent rocked and wove before providing a fierce finish. His was the best goal of the night. Abdoulaye Seck’s hand got a second reserve and the Rangers another shot from 12 yards. Barisic did the rest as the spectators gasped. 90 more minutes? Yes please.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism