Rangers ended the worst ever group stage campaign in Champions League history after slumping to a 3-1 defeat against Ajax on a sombre night at Ibrox.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side came into the match requiring an unlikely five-goal swing to snatch third place in Group A and seal Europa League football after Christmas but the Dutch champions served up another painful reminder of the ruthless quality on show in this competition.
The Ibrox club fell to a sixth consecutive defeat after goals from Steven Berghuis, Mohammed Kudus and substitute Franciso Conceicao rubbed salt into the wounds to leave the Gers with a goal difference of minus 20.
James Tavernier’s late penalty offered a flicker of hope they could secure a share of the spoils but after conceding just 44 seconds later, the Light Blues eclipsed Dinamo Zagreb’s record of a minus 19 goal difference from season 2011/12.
Van Bronckhorst’s side was severely depleted by injuries ahead of kick-off with up to 11 players unavailable, but it’s difficult to envisage Rangers at their strongest managing to overturn the deficit needed to maintain their involvement in Europe.
They got off to the worst possible start again after just four minutes when a slick move sliced open the hosts defence and Kudus provided a clever lay-off for Berghuis to coolly side-foot beyond the helpless Allan McGregor.
Rangers responded well and Fashion Sakala was unfortunate to see his header cleared off the line by old team-mate Calvin Bassey, before further defensive frailties were exposed when Kudus was allowed acres of space inside the box. The Ghanian international saw his effort take a wicked deflection off youngster Leon King before ending up in the back of the net.
The impressive Kudus was denied a second goal after a VAR check for offside, while Scott Arfield’s dipping volley was tipped over the crossbar by visiting keeper Remko Pasveer.
The home side tried their best to muster up something for the Ibrox crowd to cheer but substitute Alfredo Morelos somehow failed to hit the target with the goal at his mercy after charging down Pasveer’s goal kick.
Rabbi Matondo earned Rangers an 87th minute spot-kick which Tavernier dispatched straight down the middle for just the club’s second goal in six matches and appeared to stave off the dreaded record. However, Conceicao had other ideas as he raced up the park almost immedaitely after the restart before drilling home.
Here are GlasgowWorld’s player ratings...
ALLAN McGREGOR - 5 - Wrongfooted by Berghuis for the opening goal and had no chance at the second either. Didn’t produce any noteable saves but wasn’t at fault for Ajax’s third goal.
JAMES TAVERNIER - 5 - His poor positioning led to the first goal after failing to match Kudus’ run. Struggled to have much influence on the game going forward and his set-piece threat was non-existent. Composed penalty slotted down the middle.
LEON KING - 5 - A brutal night for the teenager but will have learned plenty from his recent European experience. Has been part of a vulnerable backline and should’ve reacted better to block the opening goal. Ajax’s second came after the ball deflected off him.
JAMES SANDS - 5 - Arguably not the player Van bronckhorst would’ve wanted to pitch in alongside 18-year-old King given he’s renowned for being a midfielder and looked completely lost at times.
BORNA BARISIC - 4 - The Croatian was poor defensively and again offered very little in attack. Simply not at the levels required to cause the opposition any problems.
STEVEN DAVIS - 5 - Pitched in due to his vast experience on the European stage and kept things tidy enough on the ball but was part of a Gers midfielder that were overrun throughout.
SCOTT ARFIELD - 6- Tried his best to pose an attacking threat and came close to scoring with a half volley in the second half, which forced Pasveer to scramble behind for a corner.
MALIK TILLMAN - 5 - Flashes of real creativity but lacked an end product and his decision making in promising areas was poor. Didn’t shirk his defensve responsibilities for a change before being subbed as part of a triple change.
FASHION SAKALA - 6 - A bright spark on a harrowing night. The energetic Zambian was denied his first Champions League goal by an excellent goal line clearance from Bassey. Kept probing and always looked for the positive option.
RYAN KENT - 7 - Found himself one-on-one with Jorge Sanchez, who had left space in behind him, but the Englishman opted to drive infield which was the wrong option. More effective after the break, displaying good dribbling ability and causing the opposition full-backs problems.
ANTONIO COLAK - 4 - Could easily forget he was on the pitch during the first-half. Totally non-existent and was an isolated figure throughout. Hooked after 60 minutes. Disappointing.
GLEN KAMARA - 3 - Returning from over a month out due to an ankle injury and helped to tighten up the midfield in the latter stages.
ALFREDO MORELOS - 4 - Replaced Colak and offered more than the Croatian did in his half an hour on the pitch. Did well to shut down Pasveer as he attempted to clear the ball but fluffed his lines with an open goal at his mercy.
SCOTT WRIGHT - 1 - On for Tillman but little of note.
RABBI MATONDO - 5 - Provided a much-needed spark late on. His blistering pace led to the penalty award.
ALEX LOWRY - 2 - Earned in Champions League debut with seven minutes remaining but not in the circumstances he would’ve wanted.
Jon McLaughlin (GK), Robby McCrorie (GK), Adam Devine, Robbie Fraser, Connor Allan
Ramko Pasveer 6, Jurrien Timber 7, Calvin Bassey 7, Edson Alvarez 6, Owen Wijndal 5 (Devyne Rensch 4), Steven Bergwijn 9 (Francisco Conceicao 5), Kenneth Taylor 7 (Florian Grillitsch 2), Dusan Tadic 8, Jorge Sanchez 7, Mohammed Kudus 8, Steven Berghuis 8 (Davy Klaassen 4)
Maarten Stekelenburg (GK), Jay Gorter (GK), Brian Brobbey, Lucas Ocampos, Ahmetcan Kaplan, Daley Blind, Lorenzo Lucca, Lisandro Magallan