Rangers have given themselves a shot at Europa League progression after a terrific performance saw them earn a 2-2 draw with Benfica. First half goals from Tom Lawrence and Dujon Sterling have Philippe Clement’s side just 90 minutes away from a place in the quarter-finals.

Angel Di Maria levelled for Benfica from the penalty spot and a Connor Goldson own goal denied Rangers a famous victory. Benfica remain unbeaten in this competition at the Estádio da Luz but the Portuguese giants were given a scare as Clement’s side bounced back from their weekend defeat to Motherwell with a superb showing.

Last eight place in sight

The words from Clement was backed up by the actions from his players. Rangers were not here to park the bus or to play for a draw. The challenge of Benfica was respected but met head on by a side that that once again rose to the European occasion and held their own against one of the great names in the game. This competition brings out something special in Rangers.

The Premiership leaders couldn’t win the tie in Lisbon but they could all-but lose it. Clement had called on his side not to be naïve and to keep themselves in it ahead of the return next Thursday. Ibrox awaits and Ibrox will expect. The home crowd will have a part to play on what could be a night to remember.

Clement labelled his side as underdogs in this tie. This was, he believed, the toughest test of his tenure. The job is, of course, only half done. It would be folly for Rangers to get ahead of themselves or take anything for granted next week but this Benfica side are beatable. Once again, supporters can dare to dream on the continent.

Goals were befitting of the European stage

The goals that gave Rangers the lead at the break encapsulated all that was good about Clement’s side. It was no smash and grab performance at that stage. Instead, the visitors were brave and bold, their quality on the ball matching their endeavour off it.

The opener from Lawrence came after Fabio Silva and Mohamed Diomande combined down the left. It would have been easy for the Ivorian to waste the opening by smashing a cross into a crowded area but he showed vision to dink the ball into the path of Lawrence. His run – aided by the one which Sterling made to draw Benfica towards the near post - was perfectly timed and the cushioned header into the corner finished off a lovely move.

Silva was the creator in the closing stages of the half. Ridvan Yilmaz played the ball into the left channel this time and Silva had the nous to find Sterling with a pass that split the Benfica defence. Sterling showed the instinct of a striker to ghost into position six yards out and finish. It was no more than Rangers merited.

Threadbare Gers dig deep when needed

The starting line-up was perhaps justified by a glance at the bench. The side that Clement selected had as much to do with fitness as form as Silva came in to start on the left and Lawrence also returned to the team.

Clement had lamented the loss of Oscar Cortes and Scott Wright pre-match and Ross McCausland was only fit for a place on the bench. With Abdallah Sima and Rabbi Matondo still sidelined, as well as playmaker Todd Cantwell, Clement again had to ask Sterling to occupy a wide berth. On the bench, Kemar Roofe was the only recognised attacking alternative.

A plethora of injury issues have caused Rangers real problems over the course of the campaign. The situation at present is serious and Clement must hope that it gets better before it gets worse and he cannot afford to lose any more of his established operators.

As the clock ticked on, the energy reserves were depleted. A handful were running on empty come the end of a pulsating encounter that had asked so much physically and mentally. Come Sunday evening at Easter Road, this group will have to do it all over again.

Butland answers Clement call

‘You need a very good goalkeeper on his day to be really strong’. That was Clement’s summation of what Rangers would require to get a result when he spoke on Wednesday evening. That is exactly what the Belgian got. This was Butland at his best.

The double-save to deny David Neres and then Arthur Cabral early on was simply stunning. It was the kind of moment that his predecessor, Allan McGregor, produced so often during his illustrious Ibrox career. Butland has filled those gloves with aplomb this term.

Neres tested Butland on a couple of occasions from the left channel in the first half and he was equal to everything Benfica could throw at him. When he was finally beaten, he could do little about it as Di Maria rolled a cool penalty into the opposite corner. Butland was booked in the build-up after delaying tactics designed to put his Argentinian adversary off.

The look on Butland’s face when he was beaten for the second time said it all. He had elected to stay on his line rather than come to collect a Di Maria free-kick and Goldson nodded it beyond him after trying to clear the danger. It was bad luck, and probably bad communication.

A sense of injustice for Souttar

To say that the penalty award against John Souttar was harsh would be an understatement. It was the kind of decision that only a VAR intervention could give. Referee Tobias Stieler checked the screen on the advice of Sören Storks. There was almost an inevitability about the outcome.

That didn’t make it any easier for Rangers to stomach, though, and Souttar rightly looked bemused. Attempting to clear a corner at the near post, Souttar inadvertently glanced the ball off his left hand.

On first viewing, there was little in it. When it is slowed down and replayed time after time and the still pictures are analysed, it becomes contentious rather than clear. It was harsh on Rangers as a team and certainly on Souttar after a fine showing to that point.