Steven Gerrard’s 50th game in Europe brought no cards, cake or candles. Predicting Lyon would be the toughest challenge his side had faced in continental competition in four seasons, the Rangers manager could take no real satisfaction in being right.
Coach of Bayer Leverkusen when the Bundesliga side won 3-1 in the last 16 of the Europa League in March last year, Peter Bosz is making a habit of winning at Ibrox. Top seeds in Group A the Dutchman’s latest side travelled to Glasgow and inflicted the first group game defeat on Gerrard’s Rangers in ten attempts.
Even without Moussa Dembele – the former Celtic striker with a proven track record of winning at this old ground – Lyon were comfortably the better team. With four goals in his last three games Dembele’s absence removed some of their attacking edge.
Steven Gerrard predicted Lyon would be the toughest challenge his side had faced in Europe
Yet Gerrard had warned his players against a false sense of security. Lyon, said the former England captain, had strength in the final third. He was right about that as well.
The visitors overcame a hesitant start, when Rangers looked full of vim and promise, to score an outstanding goal after 23 minutes. Thereafter they never looked back.
Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi played against Rangers for Villareal in a 0-0 draw in Steven Gerrard’s first season.
One of two inverted wingers utilised by Bosz, Gerrard had implored his players time after to show the wide men the outside channel when they came forward. Despite the managers instructions John Lundstram allowed Ekambi to cut in from the left a little too easily and curl a quite sublime strike into the corner of the net past the futile dive of Allan McGregor.
Much of the damage for the home side was self inflicted. It came from slack defending. Ryan Kent had possession in a crowded centre circle and gifted it straight to a Lyon player. Two passes later Ekambi was scampering down the left flank with one thing in his mind. The shot started five yards outside the post and curled inside perfectly.
Kent didn’t have the best of nights. The English winger was guilty of losing possession on the edge of his own box for the James Tavernier own goal which killed the game as a contest after 55 minutes.
Fifteen minutes later the £7million signing from Liverpool pulled up and limped from the pitch with an apparent hamstring injury which could curtail his involvement for some weeks. For Rangers it was that kind of night.
Despite controlling the opening exchanges, the lack of aggression and pressing from the home team was strange and uncharacteristic. At times they were oddly passive and lacked conviction.
Maybe after four seasons players stop listening to the manager quite so intently. Whatever the reason the home team had their only real spell at the end of the first half when the game hung delicately in the balance. In the second Lyon passed the ball with confidence and shifted through the gears, Rangers fans in a crowd of 44,906 restricted to screaming in frustration as one decision after another went the way of the visitors.
The Scottish champions fell to a 2-0 defeat to the French club in their opening fixture
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor 6; Tavernier 6, Goldson 6, Balogun 7, Barisic 6; Lundstram 6, Davis 6 (Wright 60), Kamara 6; Aribo 6 (Sakala 76), Morelos 6, Kent 6 (Roofe 70).
Not used: McLaughlin, McCrorie, Bassey, Patterson, Bacuna, Kelly, Arfield, McClelland.
Booked: Goldson, Aribo, Morelos
Lyon (4-2-3-1): Lopes 8; Gusto 7, Denayer 6, Boateng 6 (Diomande 65), Emerson 7; Caqueret 7, Guimaraes 7; Paqueta 8, Aouar 7, Toko Ekambi 8 (Shaqiri 71); Slimani 7.
Not used: Pollorsbeck, Henrique, Da Silva, Lukeba, Keita, Cherki, Barcola.
Booked: Slimani, Boateng
Referee: Andreas Ekberg (Swe)
Man of the match: Karl Toko Ekambi
The tone was set in first half when Bruno Guimaraes leaned into Lundstram and eased the midfielder off the ball in the area. Andreas Ekberg was unimpressed and VAR – rightly – saw no need for a second look.
The indignation of the crowd seemed to drive Rangers up a level. Joe Aribo offered a response of sorts when he made space for a low angled shot, pushed out by Anthony Lopes.
Lundstram cut the ball on to his left foot and dragged a shot inches wide from 18 yards after decent link play by Kent and Morelos.
And five minutes before half-time Kent came closest to atonement for his part in Lyon’s goal.
This wasn’t one of those Alfredo Morelos performances in Europe fans have grown accustomed to, by any stretch. Yet the Colombian’s control and pass set Borna Barisic clear on the left. A low ball to the feet of Kent gave the winger time to spin his man and make space to pass the ball towards the bottom left hand corner of the net. It looked in all the way, Lopes leaping to his feet and punching the air after a world class piece of goalkeeping turned the ball round the post.
At half-time Rangers were still in it. Just. Lyon could easily have gone two ahead when the technical brilliance of Brazilian Lucas Paqueta – a joy to watch sent sent Houssem Aouar scurrying into the area. Raising his head the number eight picked out the Malo Gusto, the right back sweeping a very decent chance past the right hand post from 15 yards.
Gerrard got into his players imploring them to show more self belief and composure. Closing down the space too often occupied by Lyon players would be key to turning the game around, yet while Celtic and Rangers grew used to being outplayed in the Champions League over the years they’re now growing used to the same feeling in the Europa League as well.
Ryan Kent’s loss of possession for one goal was human. The lack of control which contributed to the French side’s second goal ten minutes into the second half was just careless.
Winning the ball, then swiftly losing it on the edge of his own area, the classy Pacqueta’s angled ball gave Houssem Aouar a clear run on goal. Allan McGregor’s fine clock halted Lyon’s momentum for a second or two.
But Lyon weren’t done yet, the ball falling for Slimani six yards out. An unconvincing strike cannoned off Connor Goldson and struck James Tavernier before finally trickling over the line.
An own goal from star man James Tavernier sealed the Gers’ fate at Ibrox on Thursday
While Slimani claimed it, the strike goes down as an own goal for the captain of Rangers, a team now facing a task so uphill it was now mountainous.
Replacing Steven Davis with Scott Wright was an attacking move. Two goals down at home, with half an hour to play and a restless crowd, Gerrard had to find a foothold back into the game.
Wright’s first contribution was the winning of a useful free-kick after a clattering challenge by Boateng. A set-piece 25 yards from goal offered a chance of swift redemption for the captain Tavernier – and he almost took it. A dipping, swerving strike crashed against the outside of the upright and out of play. For an exasperated home support it was a rare moment of hope.
A mixed old night for Kent ended with 20 minutes to play, the winger pulling up with a hamstring problem likely to curtail his involvement for a few weeks. Already without Filip Helander for the foreseeable future this was a sobering way for Steven Gerrard to mark a half century of games in Europe.