Yet, how they succeeded in achieving so much with so little to work with in scrambling a 2-2 draw from a frenetic, scoreline tooing-and-froing first leg play-off encounter means you could never count them out. As, frankly, they had been before a ball was kicked in the tie. And, indeed, as they were when the two sides met at the same stage last year before serving up a carbon copy of this outcome.
PSV, without ever showing the command and the fluency expected of them, had more than twice as much possession of the ball than their hosts. In terms of heart and desire, though, Michael Beale’s men were their equal as they twice took the lead – through the unlikely pair of Abdallah Sima, netting on the stroke of half-time, and with his replacement Rabbi Matondo claiming a first Rangers goal in the 76th minute – only to be pegged back each time. Before seizing the initiative for a late winner that just eluded them.
Yet, the very identity of the scorers, and Rangers ability to stay in the tie, can be considered to be wins for Beale. You could never accuse the Englishman of shirking the big decisions. Among the punters rolling up to Ibrox last night there was a mix of bemusement and enragement over how the Ibrox manager had chosen to configure his frontline. A different combination settled on for the sixth time in six games. The absence of Danilo – the £5.2m buy signed for nights like these went the anguished, and angered, cries – and, equally, the inclusion of Sima, had precious few backers among the faithful.
Sima, deployed on the left of a three with Todd Cantwell flanking Cyriel Dessers on the other side, spent all but the closing seconds of the opening period appearing to make it his mission not to justify his manager’s belief in him. The ball seemed like a furry rodent running around in front of him any time he attempted to bring it under control. His misfortune compounded by the fact that among the home forward line, the Senegalese seemed to have it more in his vicinty – which still wasn’t a great deal – than any other.
These glimpses became ever more infrequent as PSV began to dominate the ball. And do little with it, in a half notable for how loose the two teams proved in looking to build the play. Peter Bosz, like his Rangers counterpart, also showed he wasn’t shy in making an eye-catching call in fielding Sergino Dest on the left of his back four… only two days after he joined on loan from Barcelona in a deal that has a £12m buy option.
Rangers found themselves in a holding pattern as the visitors raided down their left with regularity. Record £12m capture Noa Lang – the Club Brugge buy having an opening-minutes sighter spilled by Jack Butland – and Dest were given much too free rein to maurade down that flank with Jose Cifuentes left looking immobile on the left of Rangers’ midfield three. But the Eindhoven team’s attempts to find the target found them always shooting straight towards the all-yellow-kitted-out figure of the England international in the home goal. Johan Bakayoko wasteful when that proved the outcome after he burst through the middle approaching the half hour mark.
Much was made of how Rangers would find PSV an entirely different proposition from the side they edged out at the same stage of the Champions League last season. How the Dutch wouldn’t let Rangers off as they did in passing up a host of opportunities in the Glasgow first leg 2-2 draw and the fatal 1-0 return leg defeat. But their struggles for rhythm put them in similar danger when Sima shook off, what had seemed, a losing battle with the same for an opening goal that came completely out of the blue.
A punishment for PSV messing about in possession deep inside their own box, Dessers was able to scoot in among a couple of white shirts and knock the ball back to Sima. Not a single soul in the stadium expected anything to come of this lay-off to the on-loan Brighton forward. Yet, in that instant the football muse descended as the forward suddenly found he could make perfect contact with the ball to send a flighted effort sailing high into the net.
As the second half opened with PSV again making all the running there was a sense that they couldn’t keep proving so blunt. And so it proved with a left-flank cross to the back post on the hour resulting in a cut back by Bakayoko that allowed domineering midfielder Ibrahim Sagare to batter in from 12 yards.
Still Rangers would not yield and having been in their opponents’ final third in the second period, Beale’s decision to swap Sima for Matondo in the 67th minute proved instrumental in them striking back 10 minutes later. The architect was Todd Cantwell, who had given absolutely everything in the cause but succeeded in finding something more when he bombed forward and took out three visiting players with a piercing pass to Dessers. In turn, the striker swept it out Matondo on the left for an exocet of a first-time finish that claimed the rejuvenated winger his first goal in the club’s colours. The advantage was short lived with Luuk de Jong presented with a free header to power in a corner four minutes later.
Bedlam then ensued as Rangers threatened the history-repeating scoreline twice in producing a late flurry of goalmouth spills at the PSV end that were testament to their staying power. Sure to be tested to the fore in Eindhoven next week.