Rangers’ Champions League ambitions are in the balance following a pulsating 2-2 draw with PSV Eindhoven in the first leg of their play-off at Ibrox.
Gers boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst was in the opposition dugout to former Netherlands team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy and it was the visitors who took the lead in the 37th minute when Ibrahim Sangare drove in following a corner.
However, Antonio Colak levelled three minutes later with a smart finish, the Croatia striker scoring for the fourth game in a row.
An absorbing tie continued after the break and a bad mistake in the 69th minute from PSV goalkeeper Walter Benitez allowed Tom Lawrence’s free-kick to cross the line.
However, PSV defender Armando Obispo headed in an equaliser with 12 minutes remaining.
The return game is in the Philips Stadion next week and the pendulum may have swung towards the Dutch side but Rangers will believe they can still qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2010-11 season.
The atmosphere at Ibrox had helped the Gers overcome Belgian side Union Saint Gilloise in the third qualifier last month, with a 3-0 win taking the Light Blues through on a 3-2 aggregate.
Moreover, on the Gers’ thrilling run to the Europa League final last season, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leipzig were all dispatched in Govan so optimism was high amid the pre-match usual colour and noise as the fans welcomed back Lawrence, Ryan Kent, James Sands and Steven Davis.
PSV had plenty of quality in their side including winger Cody Gakpo, linked with Manchester United, captain Luuk de Jong and Mexico midfielder Erick Gutierrez.
As the rain came down, de Jong almost drew first blood in the fourth minute but his volley cleared keeper Jon McLaughlin’s crossbar.
Rangers’ first effort on goal came in the 22nd minute but attacker Malik Tillman’s low drive from 20 yards after he took a Davis pass was comfortably saved by Benitez.
The Gers fans sensed their team were finding some rhythm.
Minutes later, from a James Tavernier corner, there was a VAR check for a penalty after a header from Gers defender Connor Goldson seemed to hit the arm of a PSV’s Jordan Teze but play eventually continued.
The Dutch side took the lead when the Rangers defence failed to deal with a Gakpo corner from the left and defender Sangare swept the loose ball into the net from 10 yards.
However, the home side hit back quickly.
Three minutes later, Davis slid Tavernier in behind the PSV defence and he cut the ball back for Colak to steer his low drive last Benitez.
Rangers finished the first half on top with Benitez having to save a Tavernier header and early in the second half the PSV keeper made a better stop from Colak’s angled drive.
The visitors reminded Rangers of their threat moments later when Ismael Saibari poked a shot past McLaughlin but also inches past the post.
The lively attacker then flashed a shot over the bar before another effort was well held by the Ibrox keeper.
Rangers struggled to get up the pitch but in the 67th minute Tillman drove at the visitors’ defence but his shot caused Benitez little concern.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) August 16, 2022
However, the keeper had a nightmare when trying to deal with Lawrence’s long-distance free-kick, the ball skidding off the greasy surface and slipping out of his hands and over the line to the disbelief and joy of the home fans.
But PSV came back again and were level when Obispo headed in a Gakpo corner.
The match threatened to go either way and in the 81st minute McLaughlin raced from his line to deny Philipp Max.
The two teams go again in Eindhoven next week and Rangers will need to dig deep to take that elusive final step into the group stages.