“Fear and panic” cost Rangers as they crashed out of the Champions League after losing to 10-man Malmo at a full Ibrox, says manager Steven Gerrard.
The Scottish champions levelled the third qualifying round tie on aggregate with Alfredo Morelos’s goal, and looked well placed when Malmo’s Bonke Innocent was sent off before half-time.
But Antonio Colak scored twice in four minutes early in the second half and Rangers, despite dominating the ball and creating a fistful of chances, were unable to respond.
Now a Europa League play-off awaits against Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty or Alashkert of Armenia next week as Rangers became the second Scottish side to be knocked out – after Celtic’s defeat by Denmark’s Midtjylland.
Alarmingly for Gerrard, it is a third defeat in a row for Rangers – the first time that has happened since May 2015.
“We did really well for 45 minutes, but we got two restarts badly wrong and paid for it,” the manager told Premier Sports.
“The most frustrating part is we’ve lost the second half to 10 men. To be 1-0 up and then go 2-1 down, a bit of fear and panic set in. We’ve got the second-half performance wrong and that’s on all of us.
“We’ve lost three games out of four and, at Rangers, that’s not good enough.”
Good start turns into abject ending
Gerrard had rallied the fans in recent days to ensure a noisy reception would help keep their Champions League dreams alive.
The support answered the call with the stadium’s first sell-out since March 2020. As the stands rocked, an early goal was what those inside Ibrox craved.
Joe Aribo twice had opportunities amid the early frenzy; a shot deflected wide before he couldn’t quite manage to connect with a dangerous ball in from Borna Barisic.
But the ground was shaking when Ryan Kent took the ball onto his right foot and sent a cross to the back post where Morelos forced it over the line.
Morelos had looked off the pace in Saturday’s Scottish Premiership defeat by Dundee United, but he turned the visiting defence inside out as he threatened a second, but couldn’t add the finish.
After an opening 35 minutes where Malmo had been hanging on, they began to find a way forward.
Allan McGregor was adjudged to have handled outside the box and shown a yellow card. Colak then headed over from close range and Veljko Birmancevic shot straight at McGregor.
But on the stroke of half-time a moment of controversy led to Malmo being reduced to 10 men. Nigerian midfielder Innocent and Connor Goldson both went for the ball with high feet, but as Goldson fell to the ground, the referee gave the Malmo man a second yellow card, to the fury of his team-mates.
A second goal could well have been enough to put Rangers into the play-off round, and Morelos blasted over just after the restart.
But, in an astonishing four minutes, Gerrard’s side fell apart, just as they did in Sweden last week.
Birmancevic played a delightful ball into the path of Colak, who angled it first time beyond McGregor. Then Colak touched a throw-in beyond Leon Balogun before firing inside the near post.
In Sweden, Rangers had lost two goals in two second-half minutes. At home, it was two in four.
A huge response was needed and Scott Arfield and Goldson both went close from inside the box. Morelos had a goal-bound shot saved before the Colombian saw a header pushed away.
Kent also tested the goalkeeper while substitute Fashion Sakala twice threatened, but, for all the late pressure, the home side could not find a way through.
Man of the match – Antonio Colak
What did we learn?
It is maybe too early to write the crisis headlines just yet, but three defeats in a row has cost Rangers a place among Europe’s elite and ended their 40-game unbeaten Scottish Premiership run.
Gerrard’s side had boasted a rock-solid defence last season, conceding just 13 goals in the league. But being breached five times in their last three games will worry the manager.
So, too, will the prospect of playing in Kazakhstan or Armenia just three days before the season’s first Old Firm game.
Rangers host Dunfermline Athletic on Friday in the second round of the League Cup (19:30 BST).
- 1McGregorBooked at 34mins
- 37ArfieldSubstituted forHagiat 70′minutes
- 23WrightSubstituted forSakalaat 62′minutes
- 20MorelosBooked at 51mins
- 15AhmedhodzicBooked at 77mins
- 19BirmancevicSubstituted forRakipat 74′minutes
- 20InnocentBooked at 45mins
- 32BergetSubstituted forBeijmoat 83′minutes
- 9ColakSubstituted forAbubakariat 90+1′minutes
Match ends, Rangers 1, Malmö 2.
Second Half ends, Rangers 1, Malmö 2.
Substitution, Malmö. Abdul Malik Abubakari replaces Antonio-Mirko Colak.
Substitution, Malmö. Felix Beijmo replaces Jo Inge Berget.
Anel Ahmedhodzic (Malmö) is shown the yellow card.
Substitution, Malmö. Erdal Rakip replaces Veljko Birmancevic.
Substitution, Rangers. Ianis Hagi replaces Scott Arfield.
Substitution, Rangers. Fashion Sakala replaces Scott Wright.
Goal! Rangers 1, Malmö 2. Antonio-Mirko Colak (Malmö) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Niklas Moisander.
Goal! Rangers 1, Malmö 1. Antonio-Mirko Colak (Malmö) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Veljko Birmancevic.
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) is shown the yellow card.
Second Half begins Rangers 1, Malmö 0.
First Half ends, Rangers 1, Malmö 0.
Second yellow card to Bonke Innocent (Malmö).
Bonke Innocent (Malmö) is shown the yellow card.
Allan McGregor (Rangers) is shown the yellow card.
Goal! Rangers 1, Malmö 0. Alfredo Morelos (Rangers) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ryan Kent.
Lineups are announced and players are warming up.