Steven Gerrard revealed he had to urge his players to believe they belonged on the same stage as Villarreal as they hit back to claim an impressive 2-2 in Spain.
The Ibrox side suffered a nightmare start to their Europa League campaign as Colombian international Carlos Bacca put the hosts ahead inside 44 seconds at El Madrigal.
Gerrard felt his side lacked the confidence to really mix it with the LaLiga side during a tepid first half. But, after an interval pep talk, Rangers showed they were more than a match for the team nicknamed Yellow Submarine and the Scottish side refused to be sunk.
Scott Arfield and Kyle Lafferty struck either side of Gerard Moreno’s second Villarreal goal to hand the Ibrox side a deserved draw in their Europa Group G opener.
Gerrard said: “I’m very proud of my team, especially in the second half, which I felt was a very strong performance.
“We obviously got off to the worst possible start, going a goal down inside the first minute. Sometimes in football you’ve got to hold your hand up and it was a wonderful strike from Carlos Bacca.
“The message at half-time was to show more belief and have more courage in our play by making passes.
“I was concerned at half-time that we were going to have regrets after the game. When we won the ball back we never kept it well enough. We never had enough belief when we were getting into really good areas.
“We didn’t really believe we could cause the opposition problems. But, from half-time, we went and did it and we could have scored a few more goals. It was a crazy end to the game – we could have won it through Scott Arfield and yet at the same time we could have lost it.
“But I think that would have been really harsh on us – we deserved a point tonight.”
Lafferty’s goal was his first strike in European competitions after 17 previously barren appearances.
But Gerrard never doubted the Northern Ireland striker could produce a big performance as he deputised for the suspended Alfredo Morelos.
“I know you say it’s the first goal for him at this level but he’s scored many international goals which is obviously a very high level,” said the Rangers manager. “It’s not a surprise to me, it’s the reason I played him, it’s the reason I bought him and wanted him back here because I know he likes the big stage, I know he’s capable of scoring big goals.
“It doesn’t matter who he’s playing against, the standard of the team, he believes in himself, he backs himself.”
In the other match in Group G Rapid Vienna beat Spartak Moscow 2-0 in Austria.