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Spartak Moscow 4-3 Rangers: Gers throw away lead three times as boss Steven Gerrard suffers first European defeat

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 08/11/2018 Stephen Mcgowan For The Scottish Daily Mail
Steven Gerrard before the match © Reuters Steven Gerrard before the match

In days gone by Rangers managers would have approached this game like Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. Happy to flee the scene with the troops in one piece and no collateral damage.

In a game where two defences staggered through the pyrtechnics of the Stadion Spartak like drunken sailors with smoke in their eyes, Steven Gerrard took a different approach. In a ridiculously open and entertaining game of football the Ibrox boss went for broke.

Rangers led three times here, ending a chaotic first half of five goals, two own goals and some calamitously bad defending with the three points in their grasp. A 12th straight game without defeat in Europe was there for the taking and in hindsight it seems obvious. Everything does. 

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MATCH FACTS

Spartak Moscow: Maksimenko, Rasskazov, Kutepov, Bocchetti, Melgarejo, Roman Eremenko (Glushakov 60), Fernando, Zobnin, Popov (Timofeev 71), Luiz Adriano (Ze Luis 81), Hanni.

Subs Not Used: Rebrov, Dzhikija, Lomovitskiy, Eshchenko.

Booked: Popov, Rasskazov, Fernando, Bocchetti, Melgarejo.

Goals: Melgarejo 22, Goldson 35 og, Luiz Adriano 58, Hanni 59.

Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Katic, Goldson, Flanagan (Halliday 82), Coulibaly (Grezda 82), Ejaria (McAuley 90), Arfield, Candeias, Morelos, Middleton.

Subs Not Used: Foderingham, Jack, Ross McCrorie, Worrall.

Booked: Coulibaly, Morelos.

Goals: Roman Eremenko 5 og, Candeias 27, Middleton 41.

Ref: Ivan Bebek (Croatia).

Yet, in the cold light of day the England icon might ask himself if the second half called for a different approach. A throwback to the Walter Smith era when Rangers thought nothing of parking the bus on the 18-yard line and completing the Napoleonic retreat with a point to show for their efforts. At least.

The win was always more important to Spartak. Defeat here saw Rangers surrender first place in the group and drop to third. A place in the last 32 is still attainable, but the failure to leave here with something makes it an awful lot harder than it might have been.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Steven Gerrard suffered his first European defeat as Rangers boss in his 12th game in charge © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Steven Gerrard suffered his first European defeat as Rangers boss in his 12th game in charge

Make no mistake. Beaten in each of their last four home league games Spartak were there for the taking. Leading 3-2 at half-time this was a game Rangers could and should have won, the loss of two goals in 60 crazy seconds rendering the result a huge disappointment after taking the lead for the first time in just five minutes.

In for the injured Ryan Kent young Glenn Middleton's first corner kick was hacked into his own net by Spartak's Finnish midfielder Roman Eremenko - brother of former Kilmarnock playmaker Alexei.

The home support took the goal badly. In the opening ten minutes alone three flares were launched onto the pitch, bringing the certainty of a UEFA fine. Yet the pyrotechnics were quickly matched on the pitch, the opening 45 minutes a frankly incredible affair.

a group of football players on a field: Spartak secured memorable win when Sofiane Hanni's deflected shot flew into the net © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Spartak secured memorable win when Sofiane Hanni's deflected shot flew into the net

Spartak equalised after 23 minutes. Winger Ivelin Popov proved a menace to recalled left back Jon Flanagan on the right flank, his twist and cross finding teammates queuing up to score. Lorenzo Melgarejo got there first, swooping in ahead of Roman Zobnin to head the ball into the net from close range for 1-1.

Parity didn't last long. Flanagan's pass over the top found Daniel Candeias unmarked and onside after 26 minutes. The Portuguese winger fired Rangers back into the lead with a low finish into the bottom right hand corner. From beginning to end it was a fine goal.

Better, certainly, than Spartak's second equaliser seven minutes later. Connor Goldson's own goal was a bizarre affair. Coming seconds after home captain Bocchetti so nearly turned another one into his own net at the other end, the catalyst - once again - was Popov, a sliderule pass in behind Flanagan giving over-lapping right-back Nikolai Rasskazov the chance to slot the ball across the face of goal. 

The obvious foot for Goldson to use to clear it was his left. Using his right instead the £3million signing watched in horror as the ball spun up and careered into the corner of the net past McGregor for 2-2.

Incredibly, Rangers came again. Spartak's defending was laughably bad at times. In the days of Stalin's Russia they'd have lined up a firing squad and put the back four out of their misery at half-time.

At the age of 18 young Middleton had a moment to savour when he slotted the Ibrox team back into the lead in 42 minutes. Alfredo Morelos had the initial chance before a fortunate break teed up a sidefooted finish for the teenager. Only an iffy, dubious offside flag prevented Morelos making it 4-2 at the interval. That the Colombian top scorer was one of the few Rangers players without a goal to his name at half-time showed just how unusual the game was becoming.

It needed a brilliant block from the right foot of Allan McGregor to prevent Sofiane Hanni putting Rangers back in front within a minute of the restart.

Embroiled in a chaotic 5-5 draw with Hibernian on the final day of last season, this was never a game likely to finish 3-2.

a group of football players on a field: Glenn Middleton celebrates scoring the third goal for Rangers in the 41st minute © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Glenn Middleton celebrates scoring the third goal for Rangers in the 41st minute

The case was there for Rangers closing things down. It might have made no difference. Yet the loss of two goals in the 58th and 59th minutes were bitter pills to swallow.

The score went to 3-3 when Hanni's audacious back-flick of a low cross was superbly blocked by the outstretched right foot of McGregor once again. Whatever happened here the Rangers keeper can honestly say there was little he could have done to prevent the goals. As the ball spun up in the air Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano bulleted a header into the unguarded net for 3-3.

There was barely time to regroup, to settle things down, when Spartak claimed the lead for the first time in the game.

It was another horrible, if deeply unfortunate, moment for Goldson. The credit for a wickedly deflected 20 yard strike was given to Hanni. Yet television pictures showed the ball spinning off the Englishman's shin and changing direction in mid-air. Spartak supporters chose not to quibble.

Only the junction of post and crossbar prevented Spartak captain Bocchetti making it 5-3 with 16 minutes to play, a bullet header from Popov's free-kick careering off the woodwork, the defender denied a goal at the second attempt by McGregor's legs.

For all their occasional brilliance, the efforts of the Spartak players to win bogus penalties were a pitiful affair. Popov could have been booked twice for simulation, the Croatian referee settling for one yellow card. Opening goalscorer Melgarejo followed him in the closing stages.

Right at the death Rangers laid siege to the home goal and almost snatched their point. A penalty box scramble saw Nikola Katic denied by the post and Spartak hack the ball clear before substitute Andy Halliday smashed a 20-yard strike inches wide of the post. The disbelief of the home fans at full-time spoke for everyone. 

This was one hell of a game.

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