3 major talking points as Rangers succumb to Napoli after Allan McGregor heroics on drama-fuelled night
Champions League football returned to Ibrox Stadium for the first time in 12 years but it ended in heartbreak for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side.
Rangers defender James Sands is sent off in the 55th minute of the Champions League defeat to Napoli at Ibrox. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
On a night of incredible drama at Ibrox, Rangers suffered Champions League heartache against Napoli to leave the Glasgow giants licking their wounds after three defeats on the bounce in all competitions.
Veteran goalkeeper Allan McGregor - back in the starting XI in place of the injured Jon McLaughlin - rolled back the years with two impressive penalty saves from Piotr Zielinski - the second of which had to be retaken.
However, the 40-year-old could do little to prevent Matteo Politano netting from a third spot-kick before two late goals compounded another difficult evening for the Govan outfit.
It turned out to be a hugely eventful contest, with Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Luhoz taking centre stage for his role in a number of key incidents.
Firstly, he gave James Sands his marching orders for a foul on Giovanni Simeone inside the box before ordering Zielinski to retake his penalty after Politano had entered the box before the ball was struck.
Ibrox erupted when McGregor saved for a SECOND time before Borna Barisic was penalised for a handball, which Politano tucked away into the bottom right-hand corner.
Rangers were then awarded a penalty in injury-time by Luhoz, only for VAR to overturn his decision as the Gers went a hat-trick of games without scoring.
GlasgowWorld reflects on the three main talking points on a tough night for the Light Blues...
Napoli punish Gers mistakes
Rangers attacked from deep and caused the Serie A leaders problems during the first 45 minutes and the warm round of applause Van Bronckhorst’s side received at the break outlined clear signs of improvement.
However, as is often the case at this top level, if you don’t capitalise on chances created you will get punished and that was certainly the case tonight.
James Sands switched off for a split second and in his desperate attempt to prevent Simeone from finding the net, the American was punished by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who deemed the challenge worthy of a penalty.
Despite the best efforts of Allan McGregor, Napoli took full advantage from then on as they killed the tie with tidy finishes from Raspadori and on loan Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Ndombele.
Improved performance provides hope
Following a horrendous display during the 4-0 loss to Ajax in Amsterdam last week, Van Bronckhorst was searching for a much-improve showing from his side and they took the game to Napoli for large spells.
Unlike their start in the Netherlands, the Gers could consider themselves unlucky not to open the scoring in the first-half.
There is no doubt James Sands’ dismissal changed the complexion of the match but even after going down to 10 men, the hosts continued to threaten and made the Italian work extremely hard to secure maximum points.
Yes, supporters will feel disappointed by another chastening scoreline but Van Bronckhorst will have been pleased with the reaction he got from his team until the last five minutes.
Qualification hopes take another hit
It has undoubtedly been a challenging fortnight for Rangers as they suffered another heavy defeat to Napoli who top the Group A table on six points after their victory at Ibrox.
With Liverpool and Ajax both on three points, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side are now adrift and playing catch up at the bottom of the four-team section.
If the Ibrox side are to harbour aspiration of reaching either the Champions League or Europa League knockout stages, they will know there is no room for error now.
With two games against Jurgen Klopp’s Red home and away to come, qualification already looks a tall order but this encouraging display will provide Van Bronckhorst and his players with something to build on.