Rangers Verdict: Redemption is swift for Nathan Patterson as Steven Gerrard's team win another seven-goal thriller against Royal Antwerp to reach the last 16 of the Europa League
The electronic scoreboards at Ibrox are currently out of commission, awaiting the installation of upgraded models in time for when supporters are back in the stadium.
It was perhaps just as well they weren’t in operation for the second leg of this astonishing Europa League last 32 tie - they might have blown a fuse trying to keep up with the avalanche of goals as Rangers eventually blitzed their way past Royal Antwerp to the last 16 on a 9-5 aggregate.
It was certainly a pity, however, there were no punters inside the ground to witness another extraordinary contest between two teams who managed to bring out the attacking best and defensive worst in each other over 120 madcap minutes.
Just to add to the endless drama this tie delivered, it conjured up an astonishing moment of redemption for Nathan Patterson.
One of the five Rangers players who had to self-isolate after attending a house party in breach of coronavirus regulations 11 days earlier, the 19-year-old full-back was back on the bench along with fellow culprits Calvin Bassey and Bongani Zungu.
His impact on proceedings could not have been scripted more dramatically - just 16 seconds after replacing Leon Balogun at the start of the second half, he scored his first goal for Rangers.
It put them 2-1 ahead on the night, Alfredo Morelos having seen his early opener cancelled out by Lior Refaelov.
The outstanding Morelos then set up Ryan Kent to make it 3-1 but Antwerp weren’t about to go quietly as Didier Lamkel Ze gave them a sniff when he pulled one back.
But two penalties in the closing stages, the first converted by Borna Barisic and the second slammed home by substitute Cedric Itten, settled a second successive seven-goal thriller between the teams firmly in Rangers’ favour.
While Morelos has unquestionably been the headline act of Rangers’ Europa League exploits under Steven Gerrard over the past three seasons, it is also a competition which seems to bring the best out of Kent.
The winger has delivered some memorable displays on these occasions and he was switched on from the start in this one as the hosts looked to take a firm grip on the tie.
Kent might have done better than drag a shot just wide in the fourth minute after a lovely move involving Ianis Hagi, Glen Kamara and Morelos but his movement and neat footwork were a source of real anxiety for the Antwerp defence.
He forced goalkeeper Ortwin De Wolf into his first save of the night with a low drive which was diverted wide for a corner as Rangers, just as Gerrard had pledged, opened up on the front foot with no intention of simply protecting their 4-3 first leg lead.
They duly stretched it when Morelos put them in front in the ninth minute with his 23rd European goal for the club.
Antwerp were unsettled by Rangers’ pressing tactics and it forced an error from Jeremy Gelin, the French defender badly mistiming an attempted pass back which was seized upon by Kent. With De Wolf in no man’s land, Kent cut the ball back to Morelos who rammed it into the empty net just ahead of Richie De Laet’s desperate effort to cut out the danger.
Rangers looked to have the measure of comfort they would have wished for but, after the tumultuous nature of the first leg, we should have known better.
While Hagi forced De Wolf into another smart save, Antwerp were gradually gaining a foothold as an attacking force. Left wing-back Jordan Lukaku was getting plenty of encouragement from his battle with Rangers’ stand-in right-back Leon Balogun.
The younger brother of Belgian superstar Romelu became increasingly influential and after providing a cross which Aurelio Buta volleyed just wide, he beat Balogun all too easily again to set up Antwerp’s 31st minute equaliser which was finished cutely from close range by Lior Refaelov.
Balogun’s difficulties continued when he collected a booking which means he will be suspended for the first leg of Rangers’ last 16 tie.
If that influenced Gerrard’s decision to replace him with Patterson at the start of the second half, it was a switch which brought a remarkable and almost instant dividend.
The teenager’s fairytale moment came as he timed his run perfectly onto a Morelos through ball and showed composure beyond his years to guide a precise shot beyond De Wolf.
When Kent produced a fine first time finish from a Morelos pass, Rangers should have been home and dry. But Lamkel Ze’s close range finish, after a mix-up between Allan McGregor and Connor Goldson, meant a degree of suspense remained for the closing stages.
Any Rangers’ nerves were eased when Barisic scored his third penalty of the tie in the 79th minute after Morelos had been clipped by Maxime Le Marchand. The Croatian happily conceded spot-kick duties to Itten in stoppage time, the Swiss striker scoring after fellow sub Scott Wright had been brought down by Opaku Ampomah.
As Antwerp were finally forced to admit defeat, Rangers could look forward to Friday’s last 16 Europa League draw.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Balogun (Patterson 46), Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Kamara, Davis (Zungu 82), Aribo; Hagi (Arfield 71), Morelos (Itten 85), Kent (Wright 82). Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Stewart, Simpson, King.
Royal Antwerp (3-5-2): De Wolf, De Laet, Gelin (Boya 46), Le Marchand; Buta, Gerkens (Avenatti 75), Verstraete, Hongla (Miyoshi 82), Lukaku (Ampomah 75); Refaelov, Lamkel Ze. Subs not used: Beiranvand, Chevaughn, Pavlic, Van Den Bosch.
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