Heroics, gaffes, frustration and hope - Rangers and PSV play out pulsating first leg as Champions League hopes hang in balance
A grimy night in Glasgow ended on a note of promise, but there was frustration mixed in with the hope. Belief that Rangers can still progress to the Champions League group stages remains despite a mood-dampening late equaliser to PSV Eindhoven in a 2-2 draw.
Rangers will take part in what is, effectively, a second European final in a matter of weeks next Wednesday evening in the Netherlands. Everything now rests on the second leg.
There was no doubt that the conditions helped Rangers take the lead in the tie for the first time after a goalkeeping howler from PSV's Walter Benitez, who allowed Tom Lawrence’s 30-yard free kick to slide beneath him. His anguished efforts to retrieve the ball before it rolled over the line were in vain.
Rangers had 20 minutes left to negotiate. They managed only eight. Lax marking at a corner allowed Armando Obispo to head in to leave PSV as favourites to progress. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Rangers striker and son of Govan, would have to concede that as he looked on from the directors' box.
Even heading to the Netherlands with a one-goal lead would have guaranteed very little. Like Dundee United, 1-0 winners over AZ Alkmaar less than a fortnight ago, Rangers wanted to give themselves a chance of progressing ahead of the second leg – even if, in the case of the Tannadice side, it proved such a brutally illusory conceit in the final analysis.
Rangers are guaranteed to be more competitive next Wednesday night and in Antonio Colak, scorer of their first-half equaliser, they have someone equipped to sniff out chances. He has now struck in four successive matches.
But Rangers now cannot afford to lose in the Philips stadium – not by one goal, let alone seven – after Obispo’s somewhat deflating late equaliser. The Ibrox side have at least won twice before in Eindhoven – in 1978 and 1999. Indeed, they have never lost there – their last visit, in 2011, ended goalless. They may feel they are due another victory.
It will be incumbent on them to defend better than they did here to progress. Like Benitez, they were guilty of letting something slip from their grasp in agonising fashion. If only their marking had been tighter at a corner. They were guilty of slackness at the back all evening. Perhaps only goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin can be spared criticism. He kept Rangers in the tie with a couple of particularly fine stops.
Still, goalkeeping heroics and gaffes, incredible misses and fine finishes, it all amounted to another breathless night of European football at Ibrox. The slightly unfamiliar element was knowing not everything rested on the home leg. Rangers will have to rectify matters away from home on this occasion.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side lived dangerously in the second half. Ismael Saibari had chances to put the tie beyond the hosts. He prodded wide after 54 minutes and saw an effort clear McLaughlin’s bar just before the hour mark. The keeper then blocked well from Joey Veerman.
Saibari’s night was then summed up by the concession of the free-kick after he pulled down Malik Tillman that saw Rangers edge in front. It was a personal disaster for Benitez, the 29-year-old who spilled Lawrence’s somewhat speculative free kick from 30 yards out. He was bailed out by Obispo, who rose to guide in Cody Gakpo’s corner to earn the visitors a more-than-deserved draw after an engaging battle.
Even the normally mild-mannered Van Bronckhorst was spoken to by the referee shortly before the half-hour mark. The friendship between him and Holland international teammate Van Nistelrooy has been suspended for the eight day-period covering the two legs.
Now in their late 40s, standing on the edge of their technical areas, they both looked like they could still play. On a slick surface that was perfect for football and with Ibrox delivering the expected cauldron-like atmosphere, they will have wished they were out there. This was a Champions League night before the Champions League. Everything on the line, including an estimated pot of gold worth between £30-40 million.
There was a cup final-like intensity with the nerviness of such an occasion also evident. It was cagey for the most part in the initial stages albeit with a golden chance for PSV having arrived before the match could settle into a pattern. Star man Luuk De Jong surprisingly passed up the opportunity to put his side ahead after four minutes when he lifted Saibari’s cross over the top from close range. What a let off for Rangers, although they would have to recover from a setback before long.
The hosts gradually began to probe after ominous spells of Dutch possession. Tilman shot from the edge of the box after a Steven Davis pass but his effort lacked the power and accuracy to take maximum advantage of the wet conditions and Benitez watched it into his arms. Rage surged through the Ibrox crowd shortly afterwards when Lawrence was brought down in a dangerous area of the pitch around 25 yards from goal with the referee indicating he was playing on. Tilman’s shot was deflected from a cross with Italian referee Daniele Orsato unwilling to bring play back to the position where the foul had been conceded. There was more outrage among the home supporters when Goldson’s header from a corner hit Jordan Teze’s arm. Orsato indicated it was the upper arm. Again, play on.
PSV steadied themselves and Rangers survived Tillman miskicking in front of McLaughlin at a corner. The opener proved only delayed. It was sourced from another corner delivered by the excellent Gakpo. Goldson failed to execute a routine head and the ball eventually landed at Ibrahim Sangare’s feet. The midfielder swept home.
Ibrox fell briefly silent, save for a small pocket of Dutch fans in the corner. Sensing how much their team needed them, the home supporters roused themselves and Rangers responded to level within four minutes. The goal owed much to the vision of veteran Steven Davis, whose pass picked out James Tavernier down the right. He in turn found Colak who steered the ball into the corner from about ten yards. It was the finish of a man in form.