Rangers completed a gloriously chaotic 9-5 aggregate win over Royal Antwerp at Ibrox to reach the Europa League last 16 for the second successive season.
Half-time substitute Nathan Patterson scored within 17 seconds of coming on to restore Rangers’ lead on the night after Alfredo Morelos and Antwerp’s Lior Refaelov had traded goals.
Ryan Kent quickly made it 3-1 before Didier Lamkel Ze replied in a breathless start to the second half, but penalties from Borna Barisic and Cedric Itten dispelled any doubts.
Rangers will discover their last-16 opponents in Friday’s draw at 12:00 GMT.
The anarchic entertainment of the first leg in Belgium had a set a high bar, but both sides once again threw off the shackles and went for broke.
In a frenetic start, Kent – a non-stop blur of blue – stood out. The Rangers winger’s direct running had the visitors on the back foot and after sending two efforts skidding wide of the far post, his pressing led to the opener.
Antwerp centre-back Jeremy Gelin attempted to play himself out of a tight spot by rolling a pass to goalkeeper Ortwin de Wolf, but Kent was on him in a flash to intercept and cut the ball back for Morelos to slot into the unguarded net.
Rangers looked in the mood for more and Ianis Hagi’s stinging drive had to be parried away by De Wolf at the near post.
It took Antwerp half an hour to finally gain a foothold and Jordan Lukaku’s cross was volleyed wide by fellow wing-back Aurelio Buta to serve a reminder that the visitors carried a threat.
The warning went unheeded and moments later Lukaku nutmegged makeshift right-back Leon Balogun and crossed for Refaelov to tuck home from six yards.
Antwerp still needed two more goals without reply to progress, but Rangers’ composure had deserted them and Balogun picked up a booking that rules him out of the last-16 first leg.
Balogun was tormented again by Lukaku – who nutmegged his marker but could only fire into the side-netting – before being put out of his misery as Gerrard replaced him with Patterson at half-time.
It was a chance of redemption for 19-year-old Patterson, one of five Rangers players who had earned a club fine and the wrath of manager Steven Gerrard after breaching Covid-19 rules by attending a party.
He had 45 minutes, but needed only 17 seconds to make an explosive impact as he latched on to a Morelos pass down the right and drove into the box to slam an unstoppable finish into the far corner.
Few players thrive on the big European occasion more than Morelos and he provided another assist as Rangers earned some breathing space. The Colombian knocked the ball past Martin Hongla down the right and beat him for pace to square for Kent to blast past De Wolf.
Game over? Not quite in this crazy tie. Rangers were exposed at the back moments later as Refaelov’s lofted pass picked out Lamkel Ze to nip past McGregor and tap in.
Antwerp had more than half an hour to press for the further goals they needed. But Rangers finally put the tie to bed when Morelos was tripped by Maxime Le Marchand and Barisic left De Wolf helpless with a perfect penalty into the corner.
Gloss was added in stoppage time as Nana Ampomah clambered over Scott Wright and fellow substitute Itten blasted his spot-kick down the middle.
Man of the match – Alfredo Morelos
What did we learn?
Rangers’ European games have become a joyous release from their domestic dominance, where many opponents’ only aim is damage limitation. Gerrard’s side attacked with abandon and verve in a thrilling contest, with Morelos particularly impressive once again on the European stage.
For all their eye-catching forward play, though, concerns remain in defence. Antwerp put five past Rangers across the tie and Balogun had a torrid night at right-back in the absence of injured captain James Tavernier. In that respect, Patterson’s return from the doghouse couldn’t be more timely and the youngster has a chance to nail down the understudy role.
What did they say?
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told BT Sport: “I’m very satisfied, the performance was outstanding in a lot of areas.
“The first three were top high-level goals. But, as a perfectionist, we still have to look at the areas we went wrong tonight.”
- This was the highest-scoring two-legged tie in the Uefa Cup/Europa League since Helsingborgs 8-6 Heerenveen in the 2007-08 first round.
- Rangers have won their last four Europa League games – their best run in major European competition since they won five on the bounce in March 1969 in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
- Despite scoring twice on all three visits to Scotland, Antwerp have lost all three games and conceded 15 goals.
- Rangers have won 19 of their 20 home games in all competitions this season (D1), scoring 57 and conceding just nine.
- Morelos has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last seven appearances in all competitions, scoring five and assisting six.
- Kent’s assist for Morelos’ opener was his ninth of the season in all competitions – as many as he provided in 2018-19 (6) and 2019-20 (3) combined. He also scored his 10th goal of the season, the first time he has reached double figures in a campaign.
- Aged 19 years and 132 days, Patterson was the youngest player to score as a substitute in a major European competition for Rangers since Ross McCormack against Porto in the Champions League in November 2005 (19y 97d).
Rangers have a breather before returning to Scottish Premiership action – where they need just seven more points to secure the title – on Wednesday away to Livingston (18:00 GMT).
- 26BalogunBooked at 36minsSubstituted forPattersonat 45′minutes
- 18KamaraBooked at 70mins
- 10DavisSubstituted forZunguat 82′minutes
- 7HagiSubstituted forArfieldat 71′minutes
- 20MorelosSubstituted forIttenat 85′minutes
- 14KentSubstituted forWrightat 82′minutes
- 97De Wolf
- 2de Laet
- 26GelinSubstituted forBoyaat 45′minutes
- 31Le MarchandBooked at 60mins
- 30Ulineia Buta
- 16GerkensSubstituted forAvenattiat 75′minutes
- 18HonglaBooked at 71minsSubstituted forMiyoshiat 82′minutes
- 94J LukakuSubstituted forAmpomahat 75′minutes
- 7Lamkel Ze
- 1Safar Beiranvand
- 63Van Den Bosch
- Pawel Raczkowski
Match ends, Rangers 5, Royal Antwerp 2.