Rangers manager Steven Gerrard said he was proud of his players after their draw with Villarreal
Steven Gerrard hailed Allan McGregor’s wow-factor as the Rangers keeper produced a string of stunning saves to help the 10-man Ibrox side clinch a crucial point against Villarreal.
Gers were left up against it when Daniel Candeias was controversially sent off just moments before half-time.
But despite having to play the entire second half a man down, Rangers clung on for the 0-0 draw which keeps their Europa League dreams alive going into the final Group G clash with Rapid Vienna in a fortnight’s time.
Victory in Austria will be enough to see Gerrard’s team into the last 32 and he admits his players have McGregor to thank.
The 36-year-old twice was twice faced with the sight of the LaLiga big guns’ Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi racing through on his goal but on both occasions, he came out on top with a pair of breathtaking blocks.
Asked to sum up the Scotland No 1’s performance, the Rangers boss said: “Just one word, really – wow!
“I’m running out of things to say about him. He’s been top-class since day one, every single day in training and all the games. Those saves tonight were wow.
“It was a heroic night. I’m very proud of my players. Daniel Candeias has a lot of friends in that dressing room. Every single one of them rolled their sleeves up and dug in against a fantastic team, a team full of top, top players after he was sent off.
“To compete against this level of team over two games and not lose means I’m very satisfied in the circumstances.”
Rangers’ Daniel Candeias (centre) is shown a red card by referee Matej Jug
Candeias was already on a booking when he darted to chase down Santiago Caseres alongside James Tavernier and Alfredo Morelos.
All four ended up in a heap and as Caseres rolled around theatrically, Slovenian referee Matej Jug decided the Portuguese winger was to blame and flashed a second yellow – although he had to be reminded by the visitors that a red was required after appearing to forget he had already cautioned Candeias.
“I’d like to see the sending-off again because it happened on the other side of the pitch,” said Gerrard. “I’d be guessing right now but we’ll certainly analyse the incident and make a judgement when we view it from different angles. Daniel feels hard done by, though.”
Gers could even have snatched victory late on but saw a Glenn Middleton strike ruled out for offside.
But Gerrard – whose side battled through four qualifiers to make it to the group stage – admits he could not be prouder of a squad who now have the chance to bring European action back to Ibrox after Christmas for the first time since 2011.
He said: “We had some good moments even with 10 men and could actually have stolen it, although we didn’t deserve to win on the balance to play. However, it would have been cruel if we hadn’t taken a point.
“We know go to Vienna with the chance of making the group stages and I’d have taken that when Shkupi came here at the start of the journey.
“The players have set up a fantastic match with the opportunity to march into the last 32. That’s enormous strides in my book if we manage to do that. We’ve got two weeks to prepare for that game and we’ll go to Vienna and give it everything we’ve got.”