Steven Gerrard’s 50th European tie as Rangers boss ended in disappointment, as Lyon earned a 2-0 victory at Ibrox in their Europa League Group A opener.
The Cameroon forward Karl Toko-Ekambi fired in a terrific opener for the French side after 22 minutes, before Rangers captain James Tavernier put through his own goal trying to stop a close-range shot from Islam Slimani. The hosts created plenty of chances but could not claw their way back into the match.
Gerrard, who had suffered only eight defeats in Europe previously with Rangers, had warned of Lyon’s quality before the game, describing them as arguably the best side he had encountered in his tenure at Ibrox. The visitors were good value for their victory on the night, but the manager found positives in their performance.
“We gave a lot to the game and I don’t want to be too critical because I think we showed we can compete at this level,” Gerrard said. “We played some good stuff and created some half-decent openings. I think the scoreline is slightly harsh on us.”
Gerrard also expressed his disappointment with “clear mistakes” that led to both Lyon goals. “We’ve had the ball turned over in the first half and we have been punished for it because good players do that to you. I’m a bit disappointed with our defending on the second goal. The players know at this level you will be punished.”
Rangers were boosted by the return of Connor Goldson to the defence after Covid isolation to replace Filip Helander, who will be out for months after sustaining a knee injury against St Johnstone at the weekend. Goalkeeper Allan McGregor, left-back Borna Barisic and midfielder John Lundstram also returned.
Lyon manager Peter Bosz, who guided Bayer Leverkusen to victory over Rangers in the last 16 of the Europa League in 2020, was without former Celtic striker Moussa Dembele through injury, with Algeria forward Slimani taking over the role.
In a tepid start to the game, Goldson was booked by referee Swedish referee Andreas Ekberg in the 13th minute for a high tackle on Toko-Ekambi which required both players to receive treatment. Nine minutes later, the Lyon attacker took full advantage Ryan Kent was caught in possession, cutting inside past Lundstram and curling a right-footed shot from 25 yards into the far corner of the net.
Rangers rallied quickly, with Joe Aribo’s angled drive from 18 yards turned away by goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and then Lundstram came close with a drive which few wide of the far post. At the other end, Lyon defender Malo Gusto fired wide after captain Houssem Aouar and Lucas Paquetà had sliced through the home defence.
Lyon’s second goal came after Kent lost possession again, this time on the edge of the area. Aouar’s shot was parried by McGregor, with Paquetà’s shot then rebound to Slimani, whose close-range shot struck Goldson before it hit Tavernier and limped over the line. Scruffy as the goal was, it was a long way back for the home side.
In the 63rd minute, Tavernier’s free kick from 25 yards struck the outside of the Lyon post and sped behind. Centre-back Leon Balogun headed a later Tavernier free-kick over the bar as Rangers kept pushing forward, but Lyon held firm. In the other Group A game, Brøndby and Sparta Prague played out a goalless draw.
“We can still get out of the group. Lyon came out of pot one. We know they’re a good team,” Gerrard concluded. “I don’t think there’s much in the gap today from both teams. But they’ve taken two situations really well … we need to learn from this quickly.”
Ryan Kent went off with a hamstring injury in the second half, with Gerrard confirming afterwards that the winger will undergo tests. “[Ryan] felt something in his hamstring so we will assess that and check it out.”