Opportunity knocks for Rangers player facing the biggest night of his career in Prague

From attending a house party he should have stayed away from, to being part of the celebrations which marked a momentous title triumph for his club, it’s been quite a few weeks for Nathan Patterson.

Nathan Patterson celebrates after scoring his first ever goal for Rangers in their 5-2 Europa League win over Royal Antwerp at Ibrox on February 25. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Nathan Patterson celebrates after scoring his first ever goal for Rangers in their 5-2 Europa League win over Royal Antwerp at Ibrox on February 25. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The young Rangers right-back now faces the biggest challenge of his fledgling career yet as he prepares to line up against Slavia Prague in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16 tie on Thursday evening.

With club captain James Tavernier still injured and Leon Balogun ruled out through suspension, Patterson looks certain to make only his fifth starting appearance for Steven Gerrard’s side when they take on the Czech champions at the Eden Arena.

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For the 19-year-old, the tournament offers a huge opportunity to underline why his manager has such high hopes for him.

Slavia Prague players and staff celebrate at the King Power Stadium after beating Leicester City in their Europa League round of 32 tie. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Depending on the outcome of the Scottish FA disciplinary hearing on March 25 into the breach of coronavirus protocols he committed along with four of his club mates last month, helping Rangers reach the latter stages of the Europa League may also be the only way Patterson can extend his own involvement in their season.

Any domestic ban imposed by the Scottish FA - his Rangers colleagues George Edmundson and Jordan Jones were both handed seven-match suspensions on a similar charge earlier this season - will not apply to European competition.

Patterson’s response since returning to the Rangers squad after being fined by the club and forced to self-isolate has been both dramatic and highly impressive.

He scored his first Rangers goal just 16 seconds after replacing Balogun during the 5-2 win against Royal Antwerp at Ibrox in the second leg of the last 32 tie and has subsequently produced two excellent performances in Premiership victories over Livingston and St Mirren as the domestic crown was secured.

Against Slavia Prague, Patterson could be charged with containing the threat posed by left-sided dangerman Peter Olayinka. It will be a significant test of the teenager’s defensive qualities, while he will also be expected to lend his energy and technical skills to Rangers in attack.

Like Rangers, Slavia currently boast an outstanding record at home where they have not been beaten since a 3-1 defeat against Inter Milan in a Champions League group stage game in November 2019.

But Slavia’s 2-0 win away to Leicester City in the Europa League round of 32 last month was evidence of a side just as competent on the road.

“Slavia’s performance over both legs against Leicester was extremely strong,” said Gerrard.

“We will tell the players that they need to be ready and they need to be at their very best to complete this challenge because Slavia are a very good team, a very efficient team.

“They are really strong and powerful and can run a lot. They can also play from a technical point of view. We are well aware of the size of this challenge.

“It will be really interesting to see what performance we can find. The players have trained well, they are hungry, they are focused. We've got a game plan ready for Thursday.

“We have major respect for the opposition, for the Slavia players, for their coach. As far as we're concerned, we know we have to be at our maximum to get this job done.”

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