Alfredo Morelos sets Rangers scoring record as Benfica snatch late draw in Europa League

Rangers were within seconds of taking a firm grip of top spot in the Europa League Group D, but let a two-goal lead slip in the closing stages at 10-man Benfica, the match ending in a 3-3 draw.

While there’s no question an early sending-off changed the complexion of the game, Steven Gerrard’s side made the most of their fortune on a night when striker Alfredo Morelos became the club’s all-time highest goalscorer in European competitions.

The game was barely underway when the first attack down the right ended in a Benfica goal, with two defensive errors in succession seeing Filip Helander miss his clearance and Connor Goldson inadvertantly divert the ball into his own net.

Benfica were utterly dominant and almost fashioned openings through winger Everton and forward Haris Seferovic, but out of nothing Rangers were given a way back into the game.

A simple lofted pass over the defence sent Ryan Kent racing away toward goal and his pace was far too much for Nicolas Otamendi to cope with. The former Liverpool attacker cut across the ex-Manchester City defender, who clipped his heels and brought him down on the edge of the box – with the referee immediately showing Otamendi a red card.

That dismissal proved pivotal; within six minutes the Premiership side went from a goal down to 2-1 up.

First a sweeping move down the right was sent to the back post, where right-back Diogo Goncalves took a wild swing with his left foot and only succeeded in smashing the ball into the roof of his own net.

Then, a minute later, a crossfield pass from Alfredo Morelos found Glen Kamara, he cut inside off the left channel and drilled a low finish inside the near post of Odysseas Vlachodimos to complete the quickfire turnaround.

Much of the rest of the game followed a familiar pattern thereafter: the Portuguese side trying to fashion openings through short passing and clever build-up play, with Rangers ultimately winning the ball and speeding away on counter-attacks down the wings.

Ryan Kent was a regular outlet down the left and went close with a couple of shots, one of which hit the post, but it was James Tavernier from right-back who proved Rangers’ best conduit.

It was his low cross which set up the own-goal equaliser in the first half and his creative influence was on show again to seemingly settle the match just six minutes into the second period, drilling a perfectly placed ball toward the back post where Morelos was on hand to score his 22nd European goal for the Gers, edging him ahead of the legendary Ally McCoist.

Rarely will the Colombian have had an easier goal among his collection in the Europa League and that should have been enough to settle his side into a stroll toward the three points, but Benfica were handed a way back into the game with 12 minutes to play.

Another Helander error saw Darwin Nunez take the ball around Allan McGregor and tee up Rafa Silva for a tap-in, leading to a rather more nervy final 10 minutes than Gerrard would have ideally liked.

In among the goals, midfielder Ryan Jack impressed with his tenacity, anticipation to cover behind Tavernier and his passing through the lines, while the glut of former Premier League names in Benfica’s ranks – Jan Vertonghen, Adel Taarabt, the red-carded Otamendi – failed to shine.

But with the board showing just two minutes of time added on, a simple pass through the middle of the defence allowed Darwin Nunez to race through and strike a late equaliser, leaving Rangers and Benfica locked on seven points apiece at the midway stage of the group phase.

Gerrard’s side remain unbeaten in in 19 games now since the start of the season, but he will only feel his side missed an opportunity here to see out a 10th straight victory, instead of taking only a point.

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