Rangers sent off two players as they were knocked out of the Europa League in the last 16 stages for the second consecutive season with a 2-0 loss to Slavia Prague at Ibrox.
The recently crowned Scottish champions entered the second leg at home, where they had gone 21 unbeaten games, with a slight advantage following last week’s 1-1 draw in Prague.
But Peter Olayinka put Slavia ahead in the overall standings with a first-half lead and Gers collapsed in the second half – substitute Kemar Roofe and defender Leon Balogun both seeing red.
Nicolae Stanciu managed a nice free-kick following the foul that resulted in Balogun’s dismissal, sealing a 3-1 aggregate victory for Slavia, who knocked out Leicester City in the last round.
Allan McGregor made a sublime late save in the first leg, but was all too easily beaten by a powerful Olayinka header 14 minutes later Thursday.
Olayinka placed himself between two Rangers players and guided captain Jan Boril’s cross past McGregor, who couldn’t keep him at his near post.
Ondrej Kolar was immediately called into action to prevent Ryan Kent’s shot, although Rangers struggled otherwise and could have conceded a penalty before half-time.
Balogun knocked Abdallah Sima into the box but a quick VAR check confirmed referee Orel Grinfeld’s decision to let play continue.
However, the Rangers ignored this warning and their task was made even more difficult when Roofe caught Kolar with a high boot, forcing Slavia to switch goaltenders.
Steven Gerrard’s side needed a goal to lead the game into extra time, but Balogun was awarded a second yellow after catching Lukas Masopust.
Stanciu, also on target in the first leg, picked up the resulting free kick in the upper left corner.
A cranky encounter ended in a scuffle between the two teams – Rangers took umbrage with Ondrej Kudela’s comment to Glen Kamara as they suffered a first loss in 19 matches.
What does it mean? Le Gers upgraded at home
Having sealed a first Scottish Premiership title in a decade earlier this month, Rangers’ only goal has been to reach a first European quarter-final since placing second in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup.
Gerrard’s men had apparently done the hard work in winning an away draw in Prague but, despite a full week of rest, they were well below their best at Ibrox and were tactically outclassed by their opponents.
Slavia may have had a little less ball (49.6% vs. 50.4), but they were easily the best team of the day and can hope for a second quarter-final appearance in three seasons.
Olayinka leads the way
Olayinka established Stanciu’s goal in last week’s first leg and was on track with an important decisive goal to continue his fine form in the competition.
The Nigerian striker has been directly involved in five goals in his last nine European outings – three goals and two assists – having been involved in just three goals in the previous 24.
Roofe was hired early in the second half for ineffective Scott Arfield, who failed to warrant his recall but was sent off six minutes later without having a single touch of the ball.
It was a deserved red card, as was the one that followed 12 minutes later for Balogun, meaning Rangers had two players sent off in a game in a major European competition for the first time.
Key facts about Opta
– Rangers have now been eliminated from seven of their last eight Europa League / UEFA Cup appearances, advancing only against SV Werder Bremen in 2007-08.
– Slavia won their first away victory against the Scottish opposition in Europe. They have reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League / UEFA Cup for the fourth time.
– Rangers suffered their first home loss of the season, having gone undefeated in 21 appearances at Ibrox in all competitions before today (W20 D1).
– Slavia’s Olayinka is one of two players to score three headed goals in European competition this season – along with Slavia Prague teammate Abdallah Dipo Sima.
– Rangers sent off two players in one game in a major European competition for the very first time.
Rangers travel to Old Firm rivals Celtic when they return for Scottish Premiership action on Sunday, the same day Slavia host Opava in the Czech Premier League.