Steven Gerrard called it right with his prediction that Rangers’ Europa League shoot-out with Legia Warsaw will go to the wire after his side were held to a goalless first-leg draw in Poland.
The Ibrox boss anticipated his side would be tested at the Polish Army Stadium by Aleksandar Vukovic’s men.
But Gerrard will be delighted by the composure his side showed in the Legia cauldron as they seek to reach the group stages for the second year running.
Rangers captain James Tavernier barks orders as his side are frustrated in Warsaw, Poland
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard was animated on the touchline as his side drew on Thursday
Legia Warsaw: Majecki, Stolarski, Lewczuk, Jedrzejczyk, Luis Rocha, Andre Martins, Cafu, Vesovic, Gvilia, Luquinhas, Kulenovic.
Subs: Cierzniak, Jodlowiec, Wieteska, Antolic, Carlitos, Niezgoda, Nagy.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, Aribo, Davis, Jack, Arfield, Ojo, Morelos.
Subs: Foderingham, Helander, Defoe, Kamara, Jones, King, Barisic.
Referee: Benoit Bastien (France)
The Light Blues have work to do back in Glasgow next Thursday but then it will be down to the Poles to show they can handle the noise and passion generated by the Ibrox faithful.
Rangers recalled the 10 first-choice figures Gerrard rested against East Fife on Sunday, with Joe Aribo the only starter at Methil to keep his place.
Teenage frontman Sandro Kulenovic again started up front for Legia despite having failed to find the net in his last six games as last season’s top scorer Carlitos was left on the bench.
The showdown pitted a defence that had not conceded in six Europa League ties this season against a Gers attack that had rattled in 19 goals in the competition so far.
This time, Rangers could not afford to sweep forward with the same abandon that had already taken them past St Joseph’s, Progres Niederkorn and Midtjylland.
The Poles were rigid and organised and in Brazilian wideman Luquinhas had a player who would take no second invitation to exploit a gap.
The Light Blues were well warned ahead of kick-off about the kind of hostile environment they would face in the Polish capital, with the frenzied home support notorious for the colourful atmospheres they generate.
But Sheyi Ojo came very close to silencing the Legia faithful eight minutes in. Jon Flanagan’s fierce tackle on Cafu won possession in an advanced area before James Tavernier threw over a delicious cross but on-loan Liverpool youngster Ojo put his header the wrong side of the post.
The hosts’ response to that warning was instantaneous as Luquinhas cut in from the left to fire at goal. McGregor did his team a favour by parring away from danger.
Joe Aribo of Rangers FC competes with Radoslaw Majecki of Legia during the match
Legia Warsaw supporters during the UEFA Europa League Play Off First Leg in Poland
But Gers were keeping their cool as well as the ball for lengthy spells, which helped to take some of the sting out of the crowd.
Legia’s only other chance of the first half came on 31 minutes as Niko Katic went to ground but failed to stop Pawel Stolarski’s pass finding Portuguese midfielder Cafu. Again McGregor stood firm as the shot came in.
The hosts were roared back out for the second half but the home support and it sparked a increase in their tempo.
Luquinhas found Valerian Gvilia in the box but the Georgian playmaker skied his effort while centre-back Igor Lewczuk raised Gers’ heart levels as he twice came close with a couple of headers.
But the game stretched again. Flanagan’s last-gasp tackle on Kulenovic rescued the Scots at one end before goalkeeper Radoslaw Majecki bailed out the hosts at the other end seconds later as Arfield measured a fine pass in behind for Alfredo Morelos.
Katic came close to handing Gerrard’s men a precious away goal but his header drifted over from a Steven Davis corner
McGregor then had to maintain his earlier focus to ensure Rangers return to Scotland on level terms as he dealt with a late Marko Vesovic strike after Ojo failed to track his runner.