Europa League - Rangers throw away win
Rangers were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Sporting Lisbon in their Europa League last-32 first leg, conceding a poor late goal when they should have won in a storming clash at Ibrox.
Steven Whittaker’s superb header gave the home side the lead in a second half they dominated but, in the 89th minute, little Matias Fernandez was inexcusably given a free header which he buried to give the Portuguese side a vital away goal.
Rangers should have been home and dry by that point and even in injury-time hapless forward Kyle Lafferty contrived to miss two gilt-edged chances to give them a narrow lead for the second leg.
An entertaining first half somehow remained goalless as Rangers and Sporting showed off contrasting but equally effective styles.
Helder Postiga and Filipe Carrico could not find the target with low drive and header respectively, while Allan McGregor made a superb close-range stop to deny Yannick Djalo after the young striker left David Weir for dead.
For Rangers Lafferty twice headed over after good wingplay from Whittaker and Vladimir Weiss, while Whittaker stung the palms of Rui Patricio in an even opening 45.
The second half, however, was all about the hosts as they came out of the tunnel like a team possessed.
Shaky keeper Patricio made one good save from Whittaker after Carrico failed to keep a Lafferty flick-on away from the Scotland midfielder, while Lafferty thought he had scored but was denied by a block from the same defender, who was Sporting’s man of the match.
El-Hadji Diouf was giving the defenders a torrid time, winning a corner with a superb run and low ball that was hacked behind in desperation by Carrico for a corner.
From that set piece they took a deserved lead as Whittaker leapt like an Olympic high jumper to power Weiss’s cross into the top right.
Rangers looked to ride the match out, which unless they were tiring was a poor decision as Sporting were there for the taking.
And they were made to pay the price when, with one minute remaining, the Gers switched off at the back to allow substitute Fernandez – one of the smallest men on the pitch – to head the ball into the bottom right.
There was still time for more drama though as Lafferty, who held the ball up well all night but looked utterly devoid of confidence in front of goal, spurned two great opportunities to win it on the night, firing straight at Patricio twice in quick succession when getting clear from the last defender.
Rangers now need a win or a high-scoring draw in Lisbon if they are to make the last 16, with the second leg next Thursday.