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Kyle Lafferty scored Rangers’ second goal in Villarreal

Rangers twice came from behind to earn a stunning draw with La Liga side Villarreal in their opening Europa League group game.

Steven Gerrard’s side – fourth seeds in their section – maintained their unbeaten record in nine European games this season thanks to Kyle Lafferty’s 76th-minute equaliser.

Moreno Gerard had restored Villarreal’s lead just two minutes after Scott Arfield cancelled out Carlos Bacca’s first-minute opener with Rangers second shot on goal.

Rangers survived heavy pressure and Arfield had a great chance to steal a shock win in the closing moments but was denied by goalkeeper Andres Fernandez.

The Ibrox side host Rapid Vienna in their next Group G outing, with the Austrians having beaten Spartak Moscow 2-0 at home in their opener.

Performance lacking, result outstanding

This was far from Rangers’ best performance of the season, but it is by some distance their most impressive result.

They were second-best for much of the game, but with a display of resilience and desire, they clawed themselves level twice to earn a point.

Both of their goals oozed quality in the build-up and execution and came in a second half in which Rangers were far more competitive after a meek first period.

James Tavernier was pivotal to the first equaliser and might well have had a penalty for a foul by Victor Ruiz had Daniel Candeias not picked out Arfield to side-foot past goalkeeper Andres Fernandez.

The second came from the other wing – the left – as the impressive Glenn Middleton fed Borna Barisic and his cross was tucked in beautifully by Lafferty.

Villarreal’s goals were every bit as good, if not better – Bacca lobbing goalkeeper Allan McGregor with a first-time strike and Moreno chopping his way inside Barisic to fire low for the second.

Big calls & risks by Gerrard – analysis

This is fresh ground for Gerrard’s Rangers and they grew as this game wore on.

The manager’s big call was to break up his tried-and-tested central defence of Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic, with Joe Worrall replacing the latter for his debut. And, inside a minute, Goldson and, particularly, Worrall were found wanting, allowing the ball to break for Bacca to punish them.

They could easily have been further behind a Villarreal team who began the match with a number of fringe players, but they clung on doggedly.

There was much to like about Rangers going forward in the second period, although they also left themselves exposed such was the attacking gusto of Tavernier and Barisic. Perhaps that is a gamble Gerrard is happy to take – even away from home in Europe – as his full-backs played such important roles in the goals.

It is a result that should further galvanise this side and stands them in good stead for the home games to come against Rapid and Spartak.

Match stats

  • Rangers avoided defeat for just the third time in 13 away games against Spanish opponents (D3 L10)
  • The last time they did so was also against Villarreal in a 1-1 Champions League draw in March 2006)
  • Scott Arfield became just the second player to score for Rangers on his Europa League debut, after Steven Whittaker in February 2011 v Sporting
  • Villarreal striker Carlos Bacca has been directly involved in 13 goals in his last 15 Europa League appearances
  • The La Liga side are winless in their last four Europa League games (D1 L3)

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