Rangers secured their passage through to the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday night after a thrilling 5-2 win at Ibrox saw them run out 9-5 aggregate winners over Royal Antwerp.
Goals from Alfredo Morelos, Nathan Patterson, Ryan Kent, Borna Barisic and Cedric Itten secured the win for Steven Gerrard’s side, and they’ll now look to go one better than their second knockout round exit from last season’s edition of the competition.
The home side flew out of the blocks and they doubled their aggregate lead thanks to Morelos’ ninth-minute strike. After some determined work from Kent, the former Liverpool man cut the ball back to Morelos who was afforded the simple task of tapping into an empty net.
The strike was the Colombian’s 27th goal in the competition since its rebrand in 2009 – a figure only surpassed by Spanish striker Aritz Aduriz.
The goal looked to have set up a comfortable evening for the Gers, but Rangers just don’t seem to be able to do boring, and Royal Antwerp levelled the scores on the night just past the half hour mark.
Some neat build-up play down the Royal Antwerp left resulted in Jordan Lukaku flashing a devilish ball across Allan McGregor’s goalmouth, with Lior Refaelov applying the finish to take the aggregate score to 5-4.
It took Rangers less than 20 seconds of the second half to regain their lead on the night, with half-time substitute Patterson combing nicely with Morelos before slotting past Ortwin De Wolf in the Royal Antwerp goal.
The tie looked to be effectively over just ten minutes later, as Gerrard’s men produced a sumptuous move to cut apart their Belgian opposition before Kent slotted home, only for Didier Lamkel Zé to go straight down the other end and make the score 3-2 on the night.
Rangers finally put the tie to bed with just ten minutes remaining. Morelos’ clever movement bamboozled Royal Antwerp defender Maxime Le Marchand, with the former Fulham man inadvertently tripping him the area, before Borna Barisic stepped up to slot the resulting spot kick past De Wolf.
There was just time for the home side to make the game even more bonkers in stoppage time, with Scott Wright brought down in the area and Cedric Itten rounding off the scoring from the penalty spot to make the aggregate score 9-5 to the Scottish Premiership leaders.
The only sour note for the home side on the night was a yellow card picked up by Leon Balogun following a late challenge on Lamkel Zé. The defender will now miss Rangers’ next outing in the competition through suspension, and Gerrard will be hoping James Tavernier is fit in time to retake his place in the backline.