RANGERS were beaten tonight by Bayer Leverkusen in their UEFA Europa League, Last 16, first-leg tie here at Ibrox.
Steven Gerrard’s side were competitive throughout the 90 minutes against the side currently sitting fifth in the Bundesliga, but a first-half penalty from Kai Havertz and then second-half strikes from Charles Aranguiz and Leon Bailey either side of a George Edmundson counter means Gers’ incredible 16-game unbeaten home run at Ibrox is at an end.
From the side which defeated Ross County on Sunday, Steven Gerrard named two changes, with James Tavernier and Scott Arfield coming into the side in place of Matt Polster and Ianis Hagi.
In front of a typically fervent Ibrox atmosphere, both sides enjoyed spells on the ball in the early periods, although chances for either proved not to be forthcoming.
Glen Kamara picked up a booking to keep him out of the second leg for a late foul on Mitchell Weiser, before Kerem Demirbay forced Allan McGregor into his first (and pretty simple) save of the night with a trundling effort the Gers ‘keeper held easily.
Demirbay then followed Kamara into the book with an equally late tackle on the Finn, before on 36 minutes, after a lengthy VAR check, Bayer were awarded a penalty with the ball adjudged to have hit the arm of George Edmundson from a Charles Aranguiz cross.
Kai Havertz took the kick, and with McGregor diving to his left, Havertz rolled the ball down the middle and into the net to give the visitors the lead.
It was a blow for Rangers, but the shape they had kept to well up to that point they then remained in until half-time to keep the scores level.
Gers began the second half well, and Alfredo Morelos was close to connecting to a Ryan Kent cross which almost dropped for him at the back post.
Ibrox came alive all of a sudden, and seconds later, goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky made a super save at his near post from Morelos after James Tavernier slipped him in at the end of a lung-bursting run.
With the help of Ryan Kent, sub Flo Kamberi won the ball back from Edmond Tapsoba to the left of goal, and while Kamberi’s cross set-up Morelos for a certain tap-in, somehow, Jonathan Tah got a block in to deny the Colombian what would have been a deserved leveler given Gers’ performance.
At the other end, and not for the first time in his career, Steven Davis made a super block on the line to deny Charles Aranguiz, but he wasn’t to be denied for long, as he grabbed the second goal on 67 minutes.
Gers just couldn’t clear their lines from a corner, and the ball dropped for Aranguiz 15-yards from goal, and hitting it first-time, he found the bottom corner well to hand Leverkusen a cushion.
But that cushion was wiped-out on 75 minutes, with George Edmundson heading his side back within one on the night.
James Tavernier’s corner was superb from the right was superb, and found Edmundson in the middle to get the run off the back of Demirbay and kiss the inside of the post with his nodded effort before it landed in the net.
Ibrox came alive again, and much of the ground thought their side was level minutes later, with a Borna Barisic free-kick only just clearing the right-hand upright.
Leverkusen then had a super free-kick effort of their own, with Aranguiz cracking a drive from 20-yards on the angle off Allan McGregor’s crossbar before with two minutes left, they made it 3-1.
Sub Leon Bailey collected the ball well to the left of goal inside the area, and curled a super effort beyond Allan McGregor.
Gers kept going, and Ianis Hagi had a lethal effort held well by Hradecky as they looked for another one back in injury time.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier (Polster, 85) Goldson, Edmundson, Barisic; Davis, Kamara (Hagi, 68), Arfield; Aribo (Kamberi, 53) Kent, Morelos.
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Ojo, Halliday, Katic..
BAYER 04 LEVERKUSEN: Hradecky, Tah, Dragovic, Demirbay (Baumgartlinger, 81), Tapsoba (Paulinho, 68), Wendell, Diaby, Aranguiz, Weiser, Havertz, Bellarabi (Bailey, 62)
SUBS NOT USED: Ozcan, Palacios, Stanliewicz, Azhil.
REFEREE: Szymon Marciniak.