A COLOSSAL Rangers performance in the O Dragao Stadium tonight saw the Light Blues earn a superb point against a top-class FC Porto side in the Europa League.
Steven Gerrard’s Gers were outstanding against a side which reached the Champions League quarter-finals last season – and might even have nicked it in a second half where they were the team on top.
From the side which was held to a 1-1 draw by Hearts on Sunday, boss Gerrard made four changes.
Out went Nikola Katic, Joe Aribo, Scott Arfield and Sheyi Ojo, with their places taken in the XI by Filip Helander, fit-again Ryan Jack, Ryan Kent and Brandon Barker.
This, of course, is the first meeting of the two sides in 14 years, with the Champions League clashes of 2005 being particularly memorable with Gers defeating Porto 3-2 at Ibrox before famously earning a 1-1 draw here in the magnificent O Dragao Stadium.
As on that night, Gers were followed to this beautiful city in the north of Portugal by thousands upon thousands of loyal supporters, and it was they who were making all the noise as kick-off approached.
After sharing in possession for the opening eight minutes, the first chance of the game fell the way of the home side, with Otavio digging out a cross for Ze Luis, the striker, who faced Gers in the competition last season for Spartak Moscow, glancing a difficult header wide of the target.
At the other end, Steven Davis had a curling shot blocked as Borna Barisic found him in space from a quick corner on 21 minutes, while Moussa Marega followed that with a weak header into the arms of Allan McGregor at the other end.
James Tavernier had a decent opportunity on the volley from 20 yards go over the bar, with Alfredo Morelos setting up the skipper with some superb hold-up play and then through-ball.
There was a bit of a let-off for the visitors on 33 minutes, with Marega heading against the post from an Alex Telles cross from the right before four minutes later, the home side took the lead.
As they looked to break out with the ball, Gers coughed it up to Luis Diaz 25-yards from goal, well out on the left-hand side.
Diaz had so much to do, but he unleashed a quite astonishing drive into the far top-right corner, well out of reach of Allan McGregor to hand the home side the advantage.
Rangers had done so well to that point, and to their credit , they responded exceptionally well to falling behind, with Morelos being so unfortunate to see a header on the end of a Tavernier corner come back off the crossbar.
They kept going, however, and on 44 minutes, sensationally, Gers drew level and unsurprisingly, it was Alfredo Morelos there to net with his 16th goal of the season.
Filip Helander intercepted a Porto attack, and immediately began a Gers’ counter attack by playing the ball into midfield for Ryan Kent. Kent produced an outrageous flick to send it wide to the left to Borna Barisic, who was in acres of space. From deep, the Croatian delivered the most incredible cross, taking out the Porto defence, and into the path of Alfredo Morelos.
Such was the quality of Barisic’s cross, Morelos even had time for a touch before blasting the ball high into the net to spark absolutely unbelievable scenes of celebration in the away end.
In terms of possession, it was all Rangers at the start of the second half, and they came so close to going on 53 minutes as again Barisic and Morelos combined.
Once again the Croatian’s cross from the left was top-class, and getting his head on the end of it at the back post was Morelos, with goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin pulling off an absolutely outstanding save to deny the Colombian his second of the night.
Gers really were playing some outstanding football against a side well-accustomed to playing in the latter stages of the Champions League never mind the Europa League, and they came close again on 71 minutes with James Tavernier picking out Ryan Jack on the edge of the box from a free-kick right on the dead ball line. Jack’s shot, however, was over the bar.
Borna Barisic had a decent effort from a free-kick go just over on 84 minutes, although given its position right on the edge of the area, it looked a difficult one to get up and down in enough time.
A superb double save from Allan McGregor to deny firstly Marega and then Francisco Soares both from close range two minutes later kept the scores level – and that was to be the last major action of the game with Gers moving on to four points in Group G.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Barisic; Davis, Jack (Arfield 83), Kamara; Barker (Ojo, 83), Morelos, Kent (Aribo, 76).
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Defoe, Flanagan, Katic.
BOOKED: Barisic (14’), Jack (29’), Helander (88’).
FC PORTO: Marchesin, Pepe, Marcano, Diaz, Marega, Telles, Uribe, Corona (Nakajima, 63), Ze Luis (Soares, 76) Danilo, Otavio (B Costa, 60).
SUBS NOT USED: D Costa, Manafa, Mbemba, Silva.
BOOKED: Diaz (69’).
REFEREE: Nikola Dabanovic (Montenegro)