Ten-man Rangers fell to a second straight defeat to begin their Europa League campaign as they went down 1-0 to Sparta Prague at Generali Arena.
The Gers went unbeaten on their travels in this competition last season but failed to respond in the Czech capital on Thursday after David Hancko headed Sparta into a first-half lead.
Jakub Pesek missed an open goal early in the second period but Rangers, who lost 2-0 to Lyon in their opening game, had Glen Kamara sent off 16 minutes from time and were unable to get off the mark in Group A.
The defeat leaves Steven Gerrard’s side bottom of the standings, six points off leaders Lyon – who beat Brondby 3-0 – and four adrift of Sparta in the other qualification spot.
Sparta’s stalemate with Brondby two weeks ago had the lowest expected goals (0.8) of any matchday-one fixture, but Pesek and Martin Minchev forced Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor into a couple of good saves inside the opening 25 minutes.
Hancko found a way through for Sparta soon after with a flicked header that went in off the far post despite McGregor’s attempt to claw the ball away before it was awarded by goal-line technology.
— AC Sparta Praha (@ACSparta_CZ) September 30, 2021
The hosts wasted a huge chance to double their tally 22 seconds into the second half when Adam Hlozek broke free and teed up Pesek for what looked like being a simple finish, only for the winger to blast the ball against the crossbar with the goal gaping.
After surviving a scare less than a minute later when Fashion Sakala’s close-range finish was ruled out for offside, Sparta were again denied by McGregor as he used his feet to keep out Lukas Haraslin from a one-on-one.
That ensured Rangers still had some hope of at least snatching a point, but Kamara was shown a second yellow for a raised arm on Michal Sacek and they were unable to muster any further clear-cut openings.
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Sparta comfortably beat Celtic home and away in last season’s Europa League group stage and were good value for this victory against Rangers, which stretches their unbeaten run against Scottish sides to seven matches.
This is just a second defeat in 10 away games in the Europa League for the Gers and leaves them facing a huge task if they are to make up the points gap to finish above Sparta or Lyon – or indeed Brondby, who they face home and away next.
Pesek let off
McGregor made four saves but was unable to do anything about Hancko’s header, which was set up by Pesek from an inswinging corner.
Pesek may have played his part in the win, but the Czech Republic international will be grateful his horror miss early in the second half – from one of a team-high three shots he managed – did not come back to haunt his side.
Gers see red
Kamara’s dismissal seemed a tad harsh but Rangers are no strangers to having a player sent off in the Europa League.
Gerrard’s men have now been issued three red cards in the competition since the start of last season, with each of those coming against Czech opposition.
Sparta take on city rivals Slavia Prague in a huge Czech First League clash on Sunday, the same day that Rangers host Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership.
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