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Europa League: Double agony for Rangers

Rangers 0 PSV Eindhoven 1 (PSV won 1-0 on aggregate): Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty was stretchered off as Rangers were sent crashing out of the Europa League last night.

A single goal from Jeremain Lens was enough to see PSV Eindhoven through to the quarter-finals of the competition after a scoreless first leg, but the consequences could be far reaching for both the Ibrox side and Northern Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifying hopes.

Lafferty had a splint strapped to his leg and looked to be in considerable pain as he was carried off, putting his participation in Sunday’s Co-operative Insurance Cup final against Celtic in major doubt.

Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington will also be concerned over the fitness of the Fermanagh-man. He takes his team to Serbia for a crunch European Championship qualifier next week and will want Lafferty on-board.

PSV’s 13th minute opener was enough to win them the tie, but Rangers were incensed when Austrian referee Robert Schorgenhofer turned down second-half penalty claims when Eindhoven midfielder Atiba Hutchinson looked to have handled the ball on the line.

The Gers' prospective new owner Craig Whyte — whose reported £33million takeover of the club is set to be confirmed next week — watched from the main stand as Walter Smith’s side struggled to break free from their defensive constrictions after going behind, but had an encouraging spell of pressure in the second half when Maurice Edu missed a great chance.

The early stages were frantic as the slick Dutch side showed their intentions by going all out for the away goal which would change the complexion of tie.

That goal arrived when Balazs Dzsudzsak drove in to the box past Richard Foster after taking a pass from Erik Pieters and cut the ball back for the unmarked Lens to slide into the net from close range

The visitors grew in stature, zipping the ball around as Rangers chased shadows with Lafferty an isolated figure in attack.

With such an emphasis on defence it was difficult at times for Rangers to attack with any numbers or conviction and when they did, they looked susceptible to the counterattack.

The tie could have been killed off in the 28th minute when PSV's Swedish playmaker Ola Toivonen slipped Dzsudzsak in at the edge of the box, but the Hungarian blasted high over the bar from 12 yards.

It was as close as Rangers got to the opposition goal until three minutes from the break when defender Madjid Bougherra headed a looping Steven Whittaker free-kick over the bar.

Skipper David Weir was kept inside at the break to allow Steven Naismith — recently recovered from a hamstring injury — to support Lafferty, but it was Lens who almost grabbed his second when he arrowed a drive from distance past Alexander's right-hand post two minutes after the restart.

Moments later Gregg Wylde made a yard of space at the edge of the PSV box before sending in a decent shot which was saved by Andreas Isaksson.

Rangers had upped the tempo markedly in a bid to rattle the Dutch side and in the 55th minute another fine cross from Wylde was almost put in to his own net by PSV defender Marcelo as he cleared the danger.

On the hour mark Rangers were handed the best chance of the game when the ball broke to Edu eight yards from goal, but the midfielder shot's shot was blocked by Isaksson.

Moments later there was more misery for the home fans when they were denied a penalty.

After Naismith had hit the bar from close range with a header, Kyle Bartley's header was saved by Isaksson before Hutchinson looked to have handled the ball on the line.

However, none of the officials, including the additional assistant behind the goal, deemed an offence had been committed.

Diouf replaced Lafferty before Neil Alexander made a fine save from Toivonen as the visitors almost capitalised on the break.

In the 81st minute Dzsudzsak came close with a free-kick from the edge of the box which beat Alexander and hit the post.

The game petered out but there will be no respite for the Ibrox side who must face up to Old Firm rivals Celtic on Sunday, having yet to beat them in four previous meetings this year.

Belfast Telegraph


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