Slavia Prague 1-1 Rangers: Filip Helander gives Steven Gerrard’s side vital away goal after Nicolae Stanciu’s stunning opener in first leg of Europa League last 16 clash
- Rangers drew 1-1 with Slavia Prague in the first leg of their Europa League tie
- Nicolae Stanciu put the hosts ahead with a stunning shot into the top corner
- Filip Helander levelled for the visitors with a tap-in ten minutes before half-time
Champions find way. In their first match since being crowned kings of Scotland, Rangers dug deep for a result that might be of regal significance to their Europa League ambitions.
For half-an-hour in the Sinobo Stadium, it looked as though Steven Gerrard’s side were still nursing hangovers from the weekend title party. Sluggish, slovenly play pockmarked their performance.
When they fell behind to Nicolae Stanciu’s seventh minute strike, there was a danger of the situation quickly worsening. And maybe in past seasons it might have.
Rangers will take a vital away goal into the second leg of their Europa League tie with Slavia Prague
Filip Helander tapped in from close range to bring Rangers level ten minutes before half-time
Nicolae Stanciu had opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a stunning finish
Not now. Filip Helander claimed an equaliser before the break that flattered Rangers on the balance of first-half play. Come the second period, however, Gerrard’s men stepped it up across every department.
They got in Slavia’s faces. They had chances to take the lead. And, right at the end, they departed with a hugely valuable draw thanks to a quite brilliant save from Allan McGregor. It was another addition to the ever-young 39-year-old’s catalogue of outstanding European moments.
The result leaves this contest for a quarter-final place perfectly poised ahead of next Thursday’s second leg in Glasgow. If they can perform as they did after the interval, Rangers should feel capable of securing another landmark feat in Gerrard’s tenure.
Certainly, the Ibrox manager will feel satisfied with the fortitude shown following the immense emotional high of claiming the club’s first title in a decade.
Make no mistake, a draw here is creditable. Slavia’s pedigree extends well beyond their superb victory over Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City in the previous round.
Rangers will have the advantage going into the second leg at Ibrox next Thursday
The hosts started on the front foot as the Scottish champions started slowly in Prague
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
Slavia Prague (4-5-1): McGregor 7.5, Patterson 6.5, Goldson 6, Helander 7, Barisic 6, Kamara 6.5 (Zungu 88), David 7, Aribo (Roofe 81) 7.5, Hagi 6 (Arfield 63), Morelos 7, Kent 7
Subs not used: Deli; Tecl; Hromada; Kovar; Vagner; Visinsky
Scorers: Stanciu 7
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor; Patterson; Goldson; Helander; Barisic; Kamara (Zungu 88); Davis; Aribo (Roofe 81); Hagi (Arfield 63); Morelos; Kent
Subs not used: Bassey; Itten; Stewart; Wright; Simpson; McLaughlin; King
Scorers: Helander 36
Booked: Davis, Barisic
Manager: Steven Gerrard 7
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan 7
Bayer Leverkusen, Nice and Hapoel Be’er Sheva were all defeated in the Czech capital during the group stage. Indeed, no visiting side has won at this ground since Inter Milan triumphed back in November 2019.
They set about showing why from the start. Pressing high and mixing it up between short and long passing, the hosts unsettled Rangers in what become a distinctly uncomfortable introduction.
A couple of slips and misplaced passes suggested uncertainty in the Ibrox ranks. Then, in the seventh minute, came the early concession.
Slavia seized control in midfield and switched play wide left for Peter Olayinka. The Nigerian rolled the ball back for Stanciu, who was given too much leeway to size up his options.
It was time he put to good use. A beautiful, curling shot from near the angle of the area flew past the unsighted McGregor and found the far side of the net.
Stanciu’s finish was majestic. But it still felt like punishment for the sloppiness Rangers had exhibited.
The shock of going behind wasn’t enough to dispel it. When Stanciu played in Lucas Provod, an excellent sliding challenge from Connor Goldson was required to block the midfielder’s left-foot strike. Goldson bounced back to his feet and roared in frustration at how easily the chance had been created.
Gerrard’s side couldn’t get any real grip. Keeping the ball in Slavia’s half was problematic. There was a danger of the deficit increasing.
Borna Barisic was booked on 29 minutes for toppling Jan Kuchta after tumbling in a chase just outside the area. Provod took the free-kick and tried to catch McGregor at his near post, but the veteran threw himself left to make the save.
Then Stanciu was gifted possession by a poor touch from young right-back Nathan Patterson, making just his second Europa League start. Again, the Romanian manoeuvred onto his right foot to unleash another curling effort. This time, though, his accuracy was marginally out.
You suspected Gerrard would have taken 1-0 at half-time and a chance to reorganise from there. Instead, he had parity to work with after Rangers grabbed a 36th minute equaliser that stunned the previously dominant hosts.
It was a strange goal. But no less valuable one for that. How the Ibrox men needed the lift it provided.
Borna Barisic swept over a free-kick from the left that nicked the head of a Slavia defender before bouncing off Goldson’s thigh and angling back across goal.
Ianis Hagi had previously done little worthy of praise, yet he showed vital awareness here – reacting quickest to keep the ball in the ball in play with a precise cutback that removed goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar from the scenario. Helander had followed up and was rewarded with a close range tap-in.
The Swede’s celebration was doubtless mixed with a little relief. For Rangers, the question was whether they could raise their performance level to build upon the break.
There was certainly more positive aggression shown after the break. Slavia were engaged with greater intent higher up the pitch. For the first time, the Czechs were having to answer different types of questions. Chances followed for the Ibrox men once the hour mark had passed.
Steven Gerrard’s side were much improved in the second half and deserved a point
Slavia missed a great chance right at the end as Allan McGregor produced a fantastic save
The first arose when Alfredo Morelos broke into space on the right flank. He knocked it inside for Aribo but the Nigeria midfielder couldn’t quite sort out his feet as a left-foot shot was sliced wide.
Aribo was becoming influential in his creation, though. A lovely glide towards the home penalty area was followed by him picking out Ryan Kent.
The £7m million slightly mis-hit his shot but it threatened to loop over Kolar before the goalkeeper thrust up a hand to tip it away.
Rangers were on top now. By some distance, it was their best spell of the game. It could, and should, have led to them taking the lead on 67 minutes.
A Barisic free-kick was once more the outlet. A fabulous delivery from the left looked inch-perfect for Goldson’s run but the centre-back couldn’t connect as the ball flashed in front of him. Any solid contact and you wouldn’t have fancied Kolar’s chances.
You always fancy McGregor’s chances. The veteran goalkeeper had to stretch to concede a 90th minute corner.
Slavia substitute Lukas Masopust connected with a perfect downward header that was destined for the bottom corner of the net. McGregor, though, got down to not only stop it with his left hand but somehow retain the ball on the line. It was simply sensational.
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