Rangers’ hopes of reaching the Europa League quarter-finals are still alive after a 1-1 draw with Slavia Prague in the Czech capital as Filip Helander’s goal extended the Gers’ unbeaten record in Europe this season to 12 games – but it was far from easy for Steven Gerrard’s side.

After wrapping up the title with a 3-0 win over St. Mirren on Saturday, Gerrard named an unchanged side against Slavia – with Kemar Roofe making the bench and  Ryan Jack missing from the squad altogether.

Having knocked out Leicester City in the previous round, it was clear Slavia weren’t going to be slouches and Gerrard’s team selection reflected just how serious the Gers were taking the game, despite the celebrations earlier this week.

The Czech side are also undefeated in their domestic league, having recorded 18 wins and four draws in their 22 fixtures, extending that run by beating Baník Ostrava 2-1 at home on Sunday.

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Rangers’ manager Steven Gerrard reacts from the sidelines during the UEFA Europa League, last 16, first Leg match Slavia Prague  (Photo by MILAN KAMMERMAYER/AFP via Getty Images)

With a few hundred fans in the stadium, it was slightly surreal hearing more than just the shouts of players and staff as the game got underway, Slavia handing out tickets to keyworkers for their work in the fight against Covid.

It was an aggressive start from both sides as they thundered into challenges in the opening five minutes, with Rangers showing no signs of the weekend’s partying having any lingering effects – but there was little the Gers could do as Slavia took the lead after only six minutes through a stunning strike from Nicolae Stanciu.

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The Romanian picked the ball up from Olayinka just outside the Rangers area, taking a touch to set himself up, before unleashing a fantastic effort which Allan McGregor had no chance of keeping out.

Taking the lead really gave the hosts the impetus to push forward and put Rangers under a sustained spell of pressure, appearing to target Filip Helander as a weak link and the Gers looked far too passive through the first 20 minutes.

Rangers slowly started to find their way back into the game as the likes of Joe Aribo, Ryan Kent and Ianis Hagi began to find their feet and cause problems for the hosts’ defence as the game threatened to run away from the Light Blues.

Despite being 1-0 down for much of the first-half, it took 30 minutes for Allan McGregor to have to make a save, reacting well to Provod’s free-kick and palming the danger away at the cost of a corner.

The best chance of the opening 30 minutes for Rangers came right on the half-hour, the Gers breaking quickly through Hagi but it broke down when he picked the wrong pass and handed possession back to Slavia.

After being under the kosh for much of the game, the Light Blues drew level with a vital away goal as Filip Helander poked the ball home from close range.

Barisic’s free-kick was knocked across goal and Hagi chased it down then showed fantastic awareness to find Helander with the goal gaping and breathe new life into the Gers with ten minutes until the break.

 

Going in level at the break, it was probably slightly more than Rangers deserved but it will undoubtedly have pleased Steven Gerrard to get to the turnaround and have everything to play for on the night despite not playing particularly well.

It was much better after the restart from the visitors as they looked much more like the side that has swept everyone before them domestically, and Gerrard must have thought it was 2-1 when Ryan Kent forced a fantastic save from Kolar as his scuffed effort looked like it was going to creep in just underneath the bar.

The Light Blues kept pushing to take the lead for the first time in the game, Goldson having a gilt-edged chance to bury a header but he didn’t make enough contact and his header went sailing wide of the post.

With 1-1 a more-than-creditable result to take back to Glasgow, there was no sense that the Gers were happy to settle for that as the game wore on, Kent and the impressive Morelos really starting to cause problems for the hosts and find gaps to exploit.

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Abdallah Simaand  Nathan Patterson vie for the ball during the UEFA Europa League, last 16, first Leg tie between Slavia Prague and Rangers at the Eden Arena(Photo by Milan Kammermayer / AFP) (Photo by MILAN KAMMERMAYER/AFP via Getty Images)

Gerrard continued to look to win the tie and threw Kemar Roofe on for the final ten minutes in place of Aribo as the soon-to-be Jamaican made his return from an injury picked up away to Antwerp in the last round.

As the minutes ticked down, Nathan Patterson continued his redemption with an outstanding block to deny Boril a chance to make it 2-1 and set the scene for a dramatic finale with both teams going for it.

Just as the game looked to be petering out, Allan McGregor pulled off a stunning stop down low to claw out Masopust’s header and keep the scoreline level and leave the Light Blues in the driving seat ahead of next weekend’s return at Ibrox.

Slavia Prague:Kolar; Bah, Kudela, Zima, Boril; Stanclu, Holes, Provod; Sima, Kuchta, Olayinka

Subs: Kovar, Vagner, Deli, Tecl, Dorley, Hromada, Masopust, Lingr, Visinsky

Rangers: McGregor; Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Aribo, Davis, Kamara; Hagi, Morelos, Kent

Subs: McLaughlin, Bassey, Itten, Zungu, Wright, Stewart. Roofe, Simpson, Arfield, King

Here’s how Rangers fans reacted before kick-off when Steven Gerrard’s starting XI was confirmed for the clash with Slavia

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