Villarreal 2-2 Rangers: Kyle Lafferty earns draw
By Ron Walker
Last Updated: 20/09/18 10:42pm
Kyle Lafferty's equaliser ensured Rangers made an unbeaten start to the Europa League group stage with a 2-2 draw at Villarreal.
The hosts had a number of chances to add to a first-minute opener, finished in style by Carlos Bacca from 20 yards with only 45 seconds on the clock, but passed up two open goals.
Rangers punished them with their first shot on target, having been second-best for much of the game, when Scott Arfield side-footed in from close range to level (67).
Villarreal hit back immediately when substitute Gerard drifted inside of Borna Barisic and slotted in at the near post (69).
Villarreal: Fernandez (6), Bonera (6), Funes Mori (5), Ruiz (5), Llambrich (6), Fornals (7), Cazorla (8), Pedraza (7), Sansone (6), Bacca (6), Ekambi (6)
Subs: Trigueros (6), Moreno (7), Chuckwueze (6)
Rangers: McGregor (7), Tavernier (6), Goldson (6), Worrall (7), Barisic (7), Coulibaly (6), Arfield (7), Halliday (6), Kent (6), Candeias (5), Lafferty (7)
Subs: Middleton (7), McCrorie (6), Dorrans (N/A)
Man of the match: Santi Cazorla
But Rangers equalised once again with a wonderful counter-attack, Lafferty finishing off a first-time low cross from Barisic (76) to earn them a point from their first game in Group G.
A draw would have seemed a great result when Bacca took advantage of a lucky bounce off debutant Joe Worrall to fire into the top corner from outside the box with less than a minute on the clock, as Villarreal took full control of the first half at El Madrigal.
But it was not until after half-time they forged a clear-cut chance to cement their lead, when Allan McGregor raced off his line and tackled Karl Toko Ekambi, but the loose ball fell for Bacca, who missed from 25 yards with the goal gaping.
Rangers had barely had a kick, but levelled when James Tavernier found himself one on one with Victor Ruiz, who hacked him down.
Rangers were forced to leave out Alfredo Morelos, replacing him with Kyle Lafferty in attack, but also dropped Nikola Katic to give Joe Worrall his debut.
There were nine alterations for Villarreal, who only kept Victor Ruiz and Karl Toko Ikambe in the line-up from Sunday's win at Leganes.
The referee waved advantage and Daniel Candeias' low ball across the six-yard box was flicked home by Arfield.
Villarreal were stunned but replied instantly, as Barisic afforded Gerard far too much space to run at him before cutting inside and spotting a gap inside the near post.
The confidence of that first Rangers goal remained in the visitors, though, and they found a second equaliser of the night when substitute Glenn Middleton's inch-perfect ball down the outside found Barisic's run, and he crossed for Lafferty who fired in from close-range.
Both sides could have won it in injury-time, with Arfield seeing a weak shot held and Bacca heading wide when unmarked, but the spoils were shared as Rangers overcame a tricky task in returning with something to show from their trip to Spain.
- Villarreal are winless in their last four games in the Europa League (D1 L3); their joint-longest run without a victory in the competition (four games in November 2016 and four games in October 2010).
- Rangers are still looking for their first victory in the Europa League, with this being their fourth draw in five games in the competition (L1).
- Rangers avoided defeat for just the third time in 13 away games against Spanish opponents in European competition (D3 L10), with the previous occasion also being against Villarreal (1-1 in the Champions League in March 2006).
- Villarreal striker Carlos Bacca has been directly involved in 13 goals in his last 15 appearances in the Europa League (nine goals and four assists).
- Carlos Bacca opened the scoring for Villarreal after just 45 seconds, with what was the 20th goal netted in the opening minute of a Europa League game.
- Rangers midfielder Scott Arfield became just the second player to score for the club on his Europa League debut, after Steven Whittaker back in February 2011 (v Sporting CP).
Man of the match - Santi Cazorla
It was great to see the former Arsenal man back in business, and he was superb for Villarreal all night. From pulling off set-piece routines to perfection, to seemingly never missing a pass, the midfielder was excellent from a deep-lying role.