Rangers 0-0 Villarreal: Ten-man hosts hold on at Ibrox
Report as Rangers keep alive their hopes of staying in Europe's second-tier competition
By Charles Paterson at Ibrox
Last Updated: 30/11/18 7:31am
Ten-man Rangers hung on for a draw against Villarreal at Ibrox to keep alive their hopes of progressing to the Europa League knockout stages.
Goalkeeper Allan McGregor made two tremendous first-half saves from Karl Toko Ekambi, before Daniel Candeias was red-carded in controversial circumstances just before half-time after a clash with Santiago Caseres.
The La Liga side piled on the pressure in the second half, but Rangers defended stoutly and held out for point, with Ramiro Funes Mori missing Villarreal's final chance late on when he blazed over from six yards out.
Steven Gerrard's side now sit third in the group, and will face Rapid Vienna in the Austrian capital in a fortnight in their final game needing a win to reach the knockout stages.
Rangers: McGregor (9), Tavernier (8), Worrall (8), Goldson (8), Flanagan (7), Coulibaly (6), Jack (6), Arfield (8), Candeias (6), Morelos (6), Middleton (6)
Subs: McCrorie (6), Lafferty (6)
Villarreal: Fernandez (6), Mario (6), Alvaro (6), Funes Mori (7), Jaume (6), Caseres (6), Morlanes (6), Trigueros (6), Fornals (6), Toko Ekambi (8), Bacca (6)
Subs: Cazorla (7), Moreno (6), Chukwueze (6)
Man of the match: Allan McGregor
Following Rapid's win over Spartak Moscow earlier in the day, Rangers knew before kick-off that victory would send them top of the group. They started brightly, and Scott Arfield found room after six minutes, but his snapshot was straight at Andres Fernandez.
Villarreal are languishing in 16th place in La Liga, and had won just three times since the teams drew in Spain in September. The Yellow Submarine had brought virtually no supporters with them to Glasgow, and left a host of first-team regulars on the bench, but appeared undaunted by the initially raucous atmosphere.
Facing technically sound opponents, Rangers required patience in the early stages. Morelos barely touched the ball in the first 20 minutes, but he suddenly found space in behind, and his low shot was deflected for a corner. From the set-piece the Colombian again got free, but his back-heeled flick went high and wide.
Rangers squandered a glorious opportunity after half an hour. Scott Arfield's cross to the back post was headed down by Joe Worrall to his centre-back partner Goldson, unmarked eight yards out, but he sliced over with the goal at his mercy.
Arguably Rangers' best piece of transfer business last summer was persuading McGregor to return to Ibrox. The 36-year old has been outstanding for club and country all season, and he produced two outstanding saves to deny Ekambi. First, he got down low to his left after the winger was allowed to waltz through one-on-one; then following a loose pass from Flanagan, he closed the angle and saved one-handed, as Ekambi looked on in disbelief.
Moments later the game spilled over, as Candeias - who had been booked minutes before - was sent off for tangling with Caseres. Replays suggested he merely fell on top of the defender after a foul from Morelos, but as Caseres lay on the floor holding his face and the players confronted each other, Slovenian referee Matej Jug produced a red card.
The officials took some time to separate the melee, and amid the confusion a supporter made his way onto the pitch before being apprehended by security; there could be repercussions for Rangers from UEFA in the coming days.
Inevitably the extra-man advantage invited Villarreal to dominate possession at the start of the second half, but there was a lack of urgency and accuracy about their play. On the hour mark, Cazorla and Moreno were introduced to add a cutting edge, but it was Rangers who then so nearly opened the scoring.
Morelos did well on the left to suck the defence in and spread the ball across the 18-yard line to Arfield, who moved it on to Tavernier. His cross was finished by Middleton at the second attempt after his initial shot hit the inside of the post - only for the referee's assistant to rightly raise his flag for offside.
Steven Gerrard made four changes to the team that beat Livingston 3-0 in the SPL on the weekend. Out went Gareth McAuley, Andy Halliday, Ovie Ejaria and Kyle Lafferty, with their places being taken by Joe Worrall, Jon Flanagan, Lassana Coulibaly and Alfredo Morelos.
Ahead of a trip to Barcelona on Sunday, Villarreal made six changes to the side that beat Real Betis the previous week. Former Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori kept his place in defence, but ex-Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla started on the bench.
The opportunity galvanised the home support. Gerrard brought on Kyle Lafferty for Morelos, and immediately the striker tested Fernandez with a swerving long-range shot. Ibrox was alive with noise, as the supporters roared their team towards a precious point in what has become a desperately tight group.
McGregor foiled Ekambi again with a save from a low drive after 83 minutes, and Rangers sat deeper than ever as they tried to hold on. With three minutes left Villarreal's golden opportunity came, as Morlanes' cross found Funes Mori, but the former Everton defender scooped the ball high into the stands, ensuring all four teams can still qualify from Group G going into Matchday 6.
- Each of the four European meetings between Rangers and Villareal have ended in a draw.
- Rangers are winless at home against Spanish opponents in each of their last seven encounters (D5 L2), last beating Osasuna in September 1985.
- Villarreal are winless in their four visits to Scotland in European competition (D3 L1).
- Excluding qualifiers, Rangers have won just one of their last 13 games in European competition (D8 L4).
- Villareal have drawn all three of their away Europa League group games this season, keeping back-to-back clean sheets in the last two.
- Daniel Candeias was the first Rangers player to be sent off in a European game since Daniel Cousin against Fiorentina in May 2008.
Man of the Match - Allan McGregor
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when Steven Gerrard decided to bring McGregor back north to Rangers last summer.
However, the veteran's brilliant display against Villarreal shows just why the new Rangers manager was so keen to sign the Scotland international.
And while the 36-year-old produced any number of impressive saves to deny the Spaniards, it was his sensational stop to keep out visiting striker Karl Toko Ekambi just before half-time that was the pick of the bunch.
Rangers take on third-placed Hearts in the league at Tynecastle Park on Sunday at noon, while Villarreal face La Liga champions and leaders Barcelona at the Nou Camp later that day.