Rangers verdict: Good omens as Allan McGregor's wonder save in Prague provides a throwback to UEFA Cup final run of 2008

Almost 13 years to the day since he made a save regarded by many Rangers supporters as his finest in their club’s colours, Allan McGregor produced a moment which may just have eclipsed it.

Rangers goalscorer Filip Helander holds off Slavia Prague striker Jan Kuchta during the 1-1 draw at the Eden Arena. (Photo by MILAN KAMMERMAYER/AFP via Getty Images)
Rangers goalscorer Filip Helander holds off Slavia Prague striker Jan Kuchta during the 1-1 draw at the Eden Arena. (Photo by MILAN KAMMERMAYER/AFP via Getty Images)

If those fans are looking for good omens as they nurture dreams of reaching the Europa League final this season, they can certainly draw on McGregor’s stunning one-handed stop to keep out Lukas Masopust’s 90th minute header in the Eden Arena on Thursday night.

It preserved a 1-1 scoreline which leaves Steven Gerrard’s side in pole position to progress to the quarter-finals of the tournament, albeit a slick and dangerous Slavia Prague outfit cannot be discounted by any means ahead of the second leg of this round of 16 contest at Ibrox next week.

But just as his inspirational reaction save to deny a close range effort from Werder Bremen’s Boubacar Sanogo in Germany back in March 2008 was pivotal in helping Rangers into the last eight of the UEFA Cup on a memorable run which took them all the way to the final, McGregor may well have conjured up the defining contribution of this tie.

Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos battles with Slavia Prague's Abdallah Sima during the Europa League round of 16 first leg match. (Photo by MILAN KAMMERMAYER/AFP via Getty Images)

A vintage display

At 39, the former Scotland goalkeeper has arguably been better than ever this season and is a major factor in why newly-crowned Premiership title winners Rangers are now unbeaten in 12 European games since the campaign began.

McGregor’s future beyond the summer remains unresolved but this was further evidence of how much of a blow it would be for Gerrard if the veteran is no longer his last line of defence when Rangers go into the Champions League qualifiers next season.

While the oldest player in the Rangers’ side grabbed the headlines, it was also a night when the youngest played an eye-catching role.

Rangers winger Ryan Kent is challenged by Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela. (Photo by MILAN KAMMERMAYER/AFP via Getty Images)

For Nathan Patterson, this was the sternest test of his career so far. In only his 10th first team appearance for Rangers, the 19-year-old right-back passed it with flying colours as he proved just why his manager has long considered him as the heir apparent for currently injured captain James Tavernier.

After the emotionally draining experience of clinching the club’s first domestic title in a decade, it turned out to be a more than acceptable outcome against the Czech champions for Gerrard.

Powers of recovery

They recovered well from a sluggish start, which saw them fall behind to Nicolae Stanciu’s fine seventh minute strike, and were ultimately good value for the draw earned by Filip Helander’s valuable away goal nine minutes before half-time.

Yet it had looked as if this would be a sobering experience for Gerrard and his players after their heady celebrations last weekend.

They would certainly have felt more than gratified to go in level at the interval after a first half dominated by Slavia.

Rangers were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession, giving the ball away far too cheaply and far too often in the opening half hour which was dominated by the slick passing and intense pressing of the hosts.

The signs were certainly ominous when Peter Olayinka slipped a pass inside from the left to Stanciu who had all the time he wanted to manoeuvre himself into position to bend a superb right foot shot beyond the static and helpless McGregor from 20 yards.

Slavia would rue their failure to capitalise on that early breakthrough - Jan Kuchta passed up a glorious chance, while McGregor saved well from a Lukas Provod free-kick as Rangers rode their luck.

Resilient Rangers

But if they were fortunate only to trail 1-0, this is a side never found wanting in terms of resilience. They steadily and doggedly secured a foothold in the contest with the willingness and intelligent link-up play of Alfredo Morelos dragging them higher up the pitch.

When he won a free-kick in the 36th minute, Rangers took advantage. Borna Barisic’s delivery from the left was knocked back across goal by Connor Goldson before Ianis Hagi cleverly returned it from the left to provide Helander with a close range tap-in.

The second half saw Rangers return to the kind of performance level we have become accustomed to witnessing in this tournament this season.

With Joe Aribo, largely anonymous before the break, growing in influence there was a better rhythm and greater purpose to their play.

Aribo might have done better than scuff a shot wide after good set-up play from Morelos, while Slavia goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar had to strain himself to make a fine save to keep out a Ryan Kent shot as Rangers threatened to take the lead.

Goldson then passed up another great opportunity when he mistimed his header from another superbly delivered Barisic free-kick.

Rangers were certainly well worth their draw on the basis of their display in the second 45 minutes but it took McGregor’s moment of brilliance in the 90th minute, unquestionably as good a save as any he has pulled off in his exceptional career, to ensure they go into the second leg as firm favourites to reach the last eight.

Masopust will still be shaking his head in disbelief when he wakes up on Friday morning, trying to come to terms with just how McGregor managed to claw his precise and powerful downward header off the goalline and clutch the ball safely.

Slavia Prague (4-3-3): Kolar, Bah, Kudela, Zima, Boril; Stanciu (Lingr 76), Holes, Provod; Sima, Kuchta (Dorley 71), Olayinka (Masopust 46). Subs not used: Kovar, Vagner, Deli, Tecl, Hromada, Visinsky.

Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Patterson, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Kamara (Zungu 88), Davis, Aribo (Roofe 81); Hagi (Arfield 63), Morelos, Kent. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Itten, Wright, Stewart, Simpson, King.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.