Fernando Ricksen was a hero with the AZ Alkmaar support prior to his £3.6 million move to Rangers in the summer of 2000 but the midfielder must have been impressed with the attacking play produced by his former side.
Alkmaar are currently second in the Dutch first division and on this display it was easy to see why.
Danny Lanzaat controlled much of the game in the centre of midfield while players such Martin Meerdink, Stein Huysegems and Kenneth Perez have the pace and ability to trouble any defence.
Alex McLeish opted to play a 4-5-1 formation with Bob Malcolm returning to the heart of the midfield in place of Hamed Namouchi. Michael Ball also started at left-back and had the tough job of stopping Meerdink’s marauding runs down the right.
In past matches, Alkmaar’s coach Co Adriaanse has urged his team to attack from the referee’s first whistle and this was evident again tonight as Alkmaar surged forward at every given opportunity in the opening 15 minutes.
In what was a frantic start to the match, Dado Prso also showed his threat when he picked the ball up 40 yards from goal, beat two players and unleashed a fierce shot which Alkmaar keeper Timmer did well to hold.
It was obvious from the start that the Gers’ defence were going to be in for a busy night and this was underlined in dramatic fashion when AZ took the lead on 7 minutes through captain Danny Lanzaat.
Midfielder Martin de Cler found Martin Meerdink in the box and he neatly laid the ball in to the path of Lanzaat who beat Stefan Klos with an impressive right-foot shot.
The goal gave Alkmaar a huge lift and sent the home support within the Alkmaarderhout Stadium in to ecstasy.
Rangers, however, gradually got back in to the match and looked to have a genuine penalty claim turned down when Peter Lovenkrand’s 20 yard-shot seemed to strike the hand of Lanzaat, but the referee waved away pleas from Gers’ striker Nacho Novo.
Lanzaat could have doubled his side’s lead on 19 minutes when he darted through the static Rangers defence and was one-on-one with Stefan Klos but Der Goalie did well to save the midfielders shot with his right-leg.
Michael Ball found himself in the referee’s book when he received the first yellow card of the match for standing in front of the ball as Alkmaar tried to take a quick free-kick.
In what was an enthralling opening 30 minutes, both teams continued to create chances but were unable to find the net again.
Peter Lovenkrands tried his luck from 20 yards on 31 minutes but his left-foot shot flew harmlessly over the bar.
On 35 minutes, Nacho Novo then had Rangers best chance of the match. Alkmaar defender Barry Opdam could not control the ball and Novo nipped in and found himself one-on-one with keeper Timmer.
The striker had time to steady himself but his shot did not have the accuracy to beat the keeper who produced a good save.
Rangers finished the half the stronger of the side’s although Klos had to alert when he dived to his right to palm a fierce shot from Tim de Cler around the post.
Although Rangers went in at half-time a goal down, the match was by no means over as the Ibrox side had a number of chances to get back in to the match.
Peter Lovenkrands seemed to be holding his hamstring as he left the field and the Dane was replaced by French-Tunisian midfielder Hamed Namouchi.
Rangers showed their intent early in the second period and Prso hit a long range shot over bar three minutes into the re-start.
There was, however, concern for the Rangers management team when Jean-Alain Boumsong limped off after a collision in the box with AZ defender de Cler.
After a brief spell off the field receiving treatment, the towering defender jogged back on to join team-mates, much to the relief of the Gers’ support.
AZ always looked a threat going forward and Kenneth Pirez cut inside from the left-wing and unleashed a dipping shot on 55 minutes which Klos did well to hold.
The game continued at a furious pace with both teams attacking at every given opportunity.
Nacho Novo’s pace was a constant threat and de Cler was booked for a hard challenge on the Spaniard on 59 minutes.
Fernando Ricksen’s powerful running was a feature of Gers’ play and he thwarted a goalscoring opportunity when he put in a brave tackle on van Galen just a he was about to unleash a shot 20 yards on goal.
Klos was required to make yet another save when Michael Ball headed the ball straight to van Galen but his looping header fell in to the keeper’s hands as he was scrambling back in to his goal.
Stephen Hughes replaced Bob Malcolm on 71 minutes and went straight in to the thick of the action alongside Alex Rae and Ricksen in the centre of midfield.
Rangers looked particularly dangerous from set-pieces and looked to have equalised on 82 minutes when Marvin Andrews headed a Fernando Ricksen corner towards goal and Steven Hughes’ glancing header was cleared off the line by Barry Opdam.
The ball then dropped to Prso but his low drive hit off an AZ defender and went out for a corner.
Rangers continued to push forward desperately and Boumsong – who was being watched by Newcastle United manager Graeme Souness – went close in the closing stages.
The game fizzled out with Rangers unable to score and retain their impressive unbeaten run.
Co Adriaanse’s side now move to the top of Group F with 9 points.
AZ ALKMAAR: Timmer, Krompkamp, Mathijson, Opdam, de Cler, Buskermolan (Lindenbergh 17), Lanzaat, Meerdink, Huysegems (Nelisse 88), van Galen, Perez
Suns Not Used: Zwarthoed, Rodriguez, Jaliens, Ramzi, Sektioui
Bookings: De Cler (59)
RANGERS: Klos, Khizanishvili, Ball, Boumsong, Andrews, Malcolm (Hughes 71), Rae, Ricksen, Prso, Lovenkrands (Namouchi 46), Novo
Subs Not Used: G. Smith, Namouchi, Hughes, Hutton, Mladenovic, S. Smith, Davidson
Bookings: Ball (22) Malcolm (71)
Referee: Alon Yefet (Israel)