Spirited Rangers bury Royal Antwerp with last-gasp Borna Barisic penalty

Ewan Murray
·3-min read

Throughout their long and illustrious history in Europe, Rangers have not witnessed many matches as dramatic as this. On an astonishing evening in Antwerp, Steven Gerrard’s team led 1-0 and were 3-2 down before claiming victory by the odd goal in seven. The now typical bemoaning of no spectators certainly applies.

Borna Barisic’s penalty, his second of the game, means Gerrard can be fully confident of progression to the last 16. Beyond the madness and VAR checks, it must be noted that Rangers deserved their victory; the circumstances attached to it were just barmy. An Antwerp red card and enforced goalkeeper substitution served as footnotes. So, too, a couple of terrific Allan McGregor saves that preserved the Rangers advantage.

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“I’m waiting on my heart rate to come down,” said Gerrard. “Defensively, we weren’t at our best but it’s difficult to win away from home in Europe. The experience of Scottish teams in Europe tells me that, so I’ve got to give credit to the boys. It’s a crazy game to analyse right now, but I’ve got to credit the character of the players.”

Rangers’ build-up had been disrupted by weekend breaches of Covid regulations by five of their players. That none of the quintet would have started in Belgium regardless of such misbehaviour is a key factor, but this was clearly an embarrassment the club could have done without. In sauntering towards a domestic title and topping a Europa League group section, Rangers have not been accustomed to such negativity.

There was cause for Rangers angst within 25 minutes. James Tavernier, so influential this season, had to be withdrawn after damaging his knee. In a second enforced change before half-time, Kemar Roofe was removed by the Scottish Premiership leaders due to yet another calf problem.

Shortly before the half-hour mark, Alfredo Morelos should have handed Rangers the lead. Instead, the Colombian striker fired straight at Alireza Beiranvand when sent clean through on goal. Antwerp’s defending was highly unconvincing, and that quickly developed as a theme.

Morelos and Beiranvand were key to the incident that afforded Rangers the lead. The Antwerp goalkeeper fumbled the ball when beating Roofe to a long pass from Connor Goldson. Morelos smartly nipped in to prevent Beiranvand from sparing his own blushes. Joe Aribo subsequently stroked the ball into an unguarded net from 20 yards.

A set play afforded Antwerp parity. Barisic needlessly conceded a free-kick, which was expertly swung in from the right by Lior Refaelov. Felipe Avenatti’s header was even better, as it looped beyond the helpless McGregor.

Given their earlier level of comfort, that Rangers found themselves behind at the break was bemusing. In the sixth minute of stoppage time, Steven Davis was very harshly adjudged to have fouled Refaelov inside his own penalty area. Refaelov did not exactly need to dust himself down before planting the spot-kick high beyond McGregor.

Officialdom again played a part as Rangers scored the second goal their play merited. Ritchie De Laet pulled the shirt of Morelos just yards from the Antwerp goal, with a VAR nudge allowing Georgi Kabakov to view the foul again. With a penalty rightly awarded, Barisic gave the erratic Beiranvand no chance.

The influential Refaelov flicked the ball infield to Martin Hongla, whose shot flew into McGregor’s net via a post. Rangers were slack in not closing Hongla down but still had cause to wonder how they were behind.

Ryan Kent bobbed and weaved before providing a ferocious finish. His was the finest goal of the night. Abdoulaye Seck’s handball earned a second booking and Rangers another chance from 12 yards. Barisic did the rest as onlookers gasped for breath. 90 minutes more? Yes please.