Rangers bowed out of the Europa League with little more than a whimper as they were knocked out of the Europa League by Dutch outfit PSV Eindhoven.
With 13 minutes on the clock, the Dutch side took the lead through Jeremain Lens, as the away side dominated the encounter in the first half.
Rangers came back into the match in the Second Half, as both Maurice Edu and Steven Naismith went close. PSV were then lucky not to be reduced to ten men and concede a penalty when a goal bound effort from Maurice Edu was handled on the line and cleared, with the officials views blocked by the ruck of players in the box. In the closing minutes of the game, Madjid Bougherra went down in the box claiming for a penalty, replays showed minimal contact, however the Algerian theatrically fell to the ground and the referee waved play on despite having a clear line of sight of the incident.
Walter Smith’s ultra defensive approach to the game proved costly. Rather than trying to get that first goal, Smith was more interested in not conceding that all important away goal, and even after they conceded, Rangers did not change their style of play until Steven Naismith came on after half time, and subsequent substitutions came on far too late to change the game significantly.
With the Co-operative Insurance Cup Final against rivals Celtic on Sunday, there are injury worries for Rangers with Kyle Lafferty being stretchered off and Kyle Bartley picking up an injury late on. Coupled with Richard Foster cup-tied and Vladimir Weiss struggling with an ankle injury, Rangers could be down to the bare bones against Celtic.
Despite fans calling for Rangers to come out of the blocks as an attacking force, Walter Smith kept faith with his favoured 5-4-1 formation. Neil Alexander kept the goalkeeper’s gloves as he looks to build on match practice for Sunday’s Old Firm Cup Final. El Hadji Diouf dropped to the bench, making way for youngster Gregg Wylde and with Nikica Jelavic ineligible, Kyle Lafferty started up front on his own.
The opening minutes of the match saw the Dutch side dominate, as they showed their game plan searching for that all important away goal.
And PSV only had to wait 13 minutes for that goal to arrive. Balazs Dzsudzsak ran unchallenged into the Rangers box past Richard Foster and Madjid Bougherra, before cutting the ball back for Lens to tap the ball into the net with a simple finish from close range.
As the half continued, the Rangers fans became increasingly frustrated with their side’s inability to launch any sort of meaningful attack, as PSV’s confidence grew.
When Rangers did launch a foray forward, Lafferty in the lone striker’s role was chasing lost cause after lost cause, with PSV easily snuffing out any chance of Rangers equalising.
On the half hour mark, PSV could have effectively ended the tie when Swedish midfielder Ola Toivonen put the ball into the path of Dzsudzsak on the edge of the box, only to see his shot go high over the bar from 12 yards out.
Rangers did manage their sole chance of the first half, three minutes before half time, when Madjid Bougherra headed a Steven Whittaker free kick towards goal, but it went over the bar.
As the half time whistle blew, the Rangers fans showed their displeasure with their side, booing them off the pitch.
In a surprise move David Weir was substituted at half time, replaced by Steven Naismith. His main job was to support Lafferty in a more ‘adventurous’ 4-4-1-1 formation, but PSV could have grabbed their second with two minutes of the second half played. The goalscorer Lens had a shot from distance but it flew just past Neil Alexander’s right hand post.
Rangers increasingly came into the match, with the more attack minded approach causing PSV problems.
The resurgent Gregg Wylde beat two PSV players before unleashing a shot towards the PSV goal, however Andreas Isaksson saved it comfortably.
With Rangers looking for the equaliser, the Dutch side became susceptible at the back and just ten minutes into the second half, Rangers could have got that goal. Wylde again put a quality ball into the PSV box as both Marcelo and Isaksson misread the situation, only to see Marcelo’s clearance just go wide of his own goal.
On the hour, Rangers should have taken the lead, after slack defending by PSV. The ball broke to Edu eight yards out, but the American midfielders shot was saved by the leg of Isaksson.
Naismith hit the bar from close range with a header, and a Kyle Bartley header was saved by Isaksson, but Edu’s shot was blocked on the line by the hand of Hutchinson and cleared. The Rangers players desperately claimed for a penalty, but the Austrian referee ignored the pleas and waved play on.
The game stalled for several minutes as Kyle Lafferty went down injured after an aerial challenge. The Northern Irishman was stretchered off with what looked like an ankle injury. He was replaced by Senegal forward El Hadji Diouf.
With that breather, PSV settled down composing themselves. Toivonen came close for the Dutch side and Dzsudzsak then struck a free-kick from the edge of the box just over the bar after a foul by Madjid Bougherra, who was lucky to stay on the park for what could have been a second yellow card.
With just nine minutes remaining, Rangers tired and a needless free kick was given away. Dzsudzsak stepped up to take the resulting free kick, sending a ferocious strike through the Rangers wall beating Alexander, only to see the ball hit the inside of the post and away to safety.
The final minutes ran out and Rangers bow out of the Europa League. The tie was theirs to lose and they duly delivered such an ending for their fans, who once again questioned the manager’s tactics and the performances of some of their most important players.
Walter Smith commented after the match, singling out the referee’s failure to award two penalties, “We were a bit disappointed with the way we started. I didn’t feel we played well at all in the first half. We gave away a bad goal. We had to make an adjustment in the second half and we certainly applied more pressure. You have got to look at the penalty situation. We had a couple of chances in the run-up to a clear handball on the line. I don’t know how many officials we have got on the pitch but they all missed it. It would have changed the game. It would have reduced PSV to 10 men and given us a chance to apply more pressure. Just afterwards Madjid Bougherra was brought down as well, which I thought was a clear penalty.”
And so this match ends Walter Smith’s time as Rangers manager in Europe. With only one win in 20 European games. Season 2007/08 saw Walter Smith lead Rangers to the UEFA Cup Final, losing out to Zenit 2-0 in Manchester. But Rangers’ progress in the competition will forever be overshadowed by the riot that ensued on the streets of Manchester.
Rangers: Neil Alexander, Richard Foster, Madjid Bougherra, David Weir, Kyle Bartley, Sasa Papac, Steven Whittaker, Steven Davis, Maurice Edu, Gregg Wylde & Kyle Lafferty.
Substitutes: Allan McGregor, John Fleck, Steven Naismith, David Healy, El Hadji Diouf, Kyle Hutton, Kane Hemmings.
PSV: Andreas Isaksson, Abel Tamata, Marcelo, Wilfred Bouma, Erik Pieters, Orlando Engelaar, Atiba Hutchinson, Jeremain Lens, Ola Toivonen, Balazs Dzsudzsak & Marcus Berg.
Substitutes: Cassio Ramos, Francisco Rodriguez, Jagos Vukovic, Danny Koevermans, Stijn Wuytens, Otman Bakkal, Genero Zeefuik.