Rangers will be in tomorrow’s Europa League last 16 draw in Nyon after another thrilling Europa League tie saw the Light Blues win 5-2 against Royal Antwerp, going through 9-5 on aggregate against the Belgians – with Nathan Patterson scoring his first senior goal on his return to action.
After the thrilling first leg in Belgium that saw the Light Blues come out 4-3 winners, and Gerrard made one change to the side that followed the win in Antwerp up with the comfortable victory of Dundee United – Glen Kamara replacing the injured Ryan Jack in midfield – while the absence of James Tavernier and Kemar Roofe made it three changes from the first leg.
There was also a place on the bench for Nathan Patterson, Bongani Zungu and Calvin Bassey after the trio breached Covid guidelines and were forced to isolate as well as being punished by the club.
A shower just before kick-off left the already struggling Ibrox pitch looking in a pretty sorry state, adding an element of unpredictability to the game, as the Light Blues looked to come out of the traps early and finish the tie off.
Ryan Kent had the first real chance of the game for the hosts, finishing poorly after some excellent build-up play, and despite Kent’s wayward shot, the ease the Gers got forward was a positive early sign.
A flurry of corners for both sides would ultimately come to nothing, although Kent would force a save from Belgian keeper De Wold as he tried his luck from distance despite Alfredo Morelos being in plenty of space unmarked.
The opening would come just moments later, Alfredo Morelos netting with the goal at his mercy as Rangers punished some woeful defending from Antwerp and gave themselves a commanding lead overall with 81 minutes remaining.
Rangers have their goal! 💙
Pressure from Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos does the rest 💪
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 25, 2021
Morelos’ strike was the result of some fantastic work by Kent on the right to force a mistake before Morelos nicked the ball from in front of Richie de Laet and finished expertly to leave Antwerp needing to score three to go through.
Rangers’ recent injury woes appeared to raise their head again midway through the first half, Morelos requiring treatment on his foot and ankle before resuming play but with Roofe, Tavernier and Jack, losing Morelos is the last the Gerrard will have wanted.
The cushion on the scoreboard had the Gers looking comfortable in possession, moving the ball well and creating chances to double their lead on the night as Aribo and Kent caused the Belgians problems.
Gerrard’s side continued to carve Antwerp open, Ianis Hagi stinging De Wolf’s hands with a powerful strike as the home side came close to making it 2-0.
With the game approaching the 30th minute, Antwerp had their best chance up to that point, Buta volleying well wide of Allan McGregor’s right-hand post from inside the 18-yard box before they grabbed a shock equaliser.
Lior Refaelov, Antwerp’s most dangerous player in the first game, somehow managed to squeeze the ball in from Lukaku’s cross, stealing in front of Joe Aribo and prodding the ball beyond McGregor.
Balogun could also have done better tracking Lukaku down the right and the defender saw things get worse when he was booked soon afterwards, ruling him out of the first leg of the last 16.
After being pegged back, the Light Blues got back at it, trying to restore their advantage on the night, and Connor Goldson went close with a header from a corner in the final minutes of the opening 45.
Gerrard turned to his subs at the break, introducing Nathan Patterson for Leon Balogun, and the teenager took 20 seconds to make an impact, scoring his first goal for the club to make it 2-1.
Having only just replaced the injured Balogun, it was a fantastic introduction for the teen and will have gone a little way towards repaying the faith shown in him by Gerrard after his Covid breach.
Ten minutes later, the tie looked completely over, Ryan Kent making it 3-1 on the night and 7-4 on aggregate, getting on the end of a fantastic ball by Morelos to rifle home.
Antwerp weren’t taking it lying down though, and almost immediately went up the park and scored, taking advantage of a mix-up between Allan McGregor and Connor Goldson for Didier Lamkel Ze to roll the ball home.
With the game going into the final 20 minutes, Gerrard introduced Scott Arfield for Hagi, looking to beef his midfield up for the closing stages and avoid any late drama.
Everyone’s favourite Tweet got an airing with 13 minutes to go – Penalty To Rangers – after Morelos was brought down, Borna Barisic stepping up for the third time in the two games with the same result.
Patterson wasn’t the only one to get a chance at some redemption, Bongani Zungu coming on late on as part of a raft of changes that also saw Scott Wright and Cedric Itten introduced in place of Davis, Kent and Morelos.
There was still time for one last penalty for Rangers, Cedric Itten this time taking responsibility after Scott Wright was hauld down, firing home and adding a bit of gloss to the win.
Rangers: McGregor, Balogun, Goldson, Helander, Barisic, Kamara, Davis, Aribo, Hagi, Kent, Morelos
Subs: McLaughlin, Bassey, Itten, Zungu, Patterson, Wright, Simpson, Stewart, Arfield, King
Antwerp: De Wolf, Le Marchand, Gelin, De Laet, Lukaku, Buta, Hongla, Verstraete, Gerkins, Lamkel Ze, Rafaelov
Subs: Beiranvand, Chevaughn, Boya, Miyoshi, Ampomah, Pavlic, Van Den Bosch, Avenatti.