Scott Arfield strikes winner as Rangers come from behind to beat Standard Liege 3-2 to qualify for the Europa League last 32
They had to dig deep to claim what is the 150th victory of the club’s 64-year European history, twice coming from behind to defeat a Standard Liege side who could feel hard done by in leaving Glasgow with nothing to show for their efforts.
Scott Arfield was the match winner for Gerrard’s men, maintaining his outstanding recent form as he scored their third goal of a pulsating contest midway through the second half.
Connor Goldson and James Tavernier had been on target in the first half, cancelling out efforts from Maxime Lestienne and Duje Cop for a vibrant Standard outfit.
Rangers now have an opportunity to top Group D but will be in the draw for the last 32 regardless of the outcome of their final fixture against Lech Poznan in Poland next week.
While Gerrard has regularly and confidently rotated his squad this season, a clear indication of what might be regarded as his first choice starting line-up has clearly emerged over the course of this Europa League group stage campaign.
With the exception of the injured Ryan Jack, this was pretty much his go-to eleven for the bigger assignments.
The return of Steven Davis certainly compensated for Jack’s absence as he joined Arfield and Glen Kamara in midfield.
As expected, the front three of Kemar Roofe, Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent were restored to the side after being rested for Sunday’s Betfred Cup win at Falkirk.
It certainly wasn’t the start to the evening Allan McGregor would have envisaged on the occasion of his record-breaking 83rd European appearance for Rangers. The veteran goalkeeper had kept 37 clean sheets in the previous 82 but his hopes of improving that impressive shut-out ratio ended with Lestienne’s sixth minute breakthrough for the visitors.
Standard knew only a victory would keep them in contention to qualify from the group and they opened with an intensity and purpose which caught Gerrard’s men cold.
The sluggishness of Rangers’ start was typified by the lax defending from both Tavernier and Goldson which allowed Laurent Jans and Cop to carve out the opening down the left, presenting Lestienne with an opportunity on the edge of the six yard box which he smashed emphatically beyond the helpless McGregor.
As Rangers struggled to muster a response, Standard remained on the front foot and McGregor was relieved to see a stinging shot from Samuel Bastien blocked before it could test him.
A poorly judged defensive header from Leon Balogun presented Standard with their next sight of goal but the error went unpunished as Abdoul Tapsoba blazed his shot wildly off target.
Rangers gradually found some of the fluency in possession which has been their trademark this season and Standard goalkeeper Arnaud Bodart was forced into his first save of the evening in the 31st minute when he held a shot on the turn from Morelos at the end of a slick move.
It looked as if Rangers had restored some equilibrium when Goldson headed them level six minutes before half-time with a towering header from a Borna Barisic corner.
But it merely signalled the start of a manic period leading up to the interval. Just a minute later, Standard regained the lead when Rangers switched off at the back as Collins Fai’s cross from the right found Cop who forced the ball home from close range and clattered painfully into a post in the process.
Rangers responded by frantically laying siege to the visitors’ goal but the second leveller they secured in first half stoppage time came from a highly contentious penalty. Lestienne was belatedly penalised for handball in attempting to block a shot from Roofe, the referee pointing to the spot on the advice of his assistant after initially awarding a corner.
Ignoring the angry protests of the Standard players, Tavernier stepped up and thumped home his 15th goal of the season - the ninth from the spot.
Standard, still nursing a sense of injustice, opened the second half as they had the first. Rangers found themselves hemmed in for a spell and McGregor made a fine save to prevent Tapsoba from reclaiming a lead they could certainly claim to have deserved on the overall balance of play.
But having weathered that storm, it was Rangers who found the resilience and composure to go ahead for the first time with a magnificently worked and finished goal in the 63rd minute.
A subtle and insightful pass from Kamara wrong-footed the Standard defence, allowing Kent to burst into the penalty area. The winger cut the ball back into the path of Arfield who guided a precise first time shot low beyond Bodart’s left hand into the corner of the net.
Roofe should have claimed a fourth for Rangers four minutes from time when he was sent clear on goal but he shot tamely straight at Bodart.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic (Bassey 89); Arfield (Zungu 86), Davis, Kamara; Roofe (Itten 89), Morelos (Aribo 79), Kent. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Hagi, Patterson, Barker, Stewart, Barjonas, Dickson, King.
Standard Liege: Bodart, Dussenne, Bokadi, Laifis; Fai, Jans (Gavory 86), Shamir (Avenatti 71), Bastien, Lestienne (Raskin 71); Cop (Balikwisha 46), Tapsoba. Subs not used: Gilet, Henkinet, Sissako, Sylvestre, Carcela, Pavlovic, Landu, Siquet.
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