Fourteen years after Lyon’s last visit to Ibrox, Rangers supporters experienced an unwelcome sense of deja vu as the Ligue 1 side firmly seized the early initiative in Group A of the Europa League.
Steven Gerrard had warned his 50th European match in charge of Rangers might see his players face the toughest opponents yet of his tenure and so it proved as a streetwise Lyon claimed all three points, just as their predecessors had done back in 2007.
Karl Toko Ekambi’s goal midway through the first half laid the platform for the win which underscores Lyon’s status as top seeds and favourites to win the group. An unfortunate own goal from Rangers captain James Tavernier early in the second half ensured Gerrard suffered his first ever home defeat in the group stage of this competition.
His team were never outplayed or outclassed in an absorbing contest which saw them more than hold their own for lengthy spells. But they lacked a cutting edge in their attacking third of the pitch, something which they will require to address in the rest of a campaign which next sees them travel to face Sparta Prague.
A goalless draw in Denmark between Brondby and the Czech side in Group A’s other fixture probably wasn’t the worst outcome for Rangers, albeit it leaves them propping up the table at this stage.
Gerrard will remain optimistic about their prospects of reaching the knockout stages for a third successive season but it seems more than likely Rangers are already battling for second spot behind Lyon.
Rangers could certainly argue that Ekambi’s goal came against the run of the play, the hosts having made the brighter start to the match.
Gerrard’s men were positive and purposeful in possession, moving the ball quickly and ensuring a Lyon defence including former Celtic loanee Jason Denayer – predictably jeered every time he touched the ball – had plenty to occupy them.
Clear chances were at a premium for Rangers during the opening quarter of the contest, however, with their most threatening moments snuffed out before they could manage an attempt at goal.
Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes advanced smartly to beat Alfredo Morelos to a dangerous cross from Borna Barisic, then Denayer’s central defensive partner Jerome Boateng showed all of his experience to prevent Ryan Kent getting a shot away inside the box.
It was Kent who was culpable in the build-up to Lyon’s 23rd minute breakthrough as he was caught in possession just inside his own half, Maxence Cacqueret nicking the ball off his toes.
The ball was worked wide to Ekambi on the left and the Cameroon international striker displayed exquisite footwork as he cut inside and curled a magnificent right foot shot beyond Allan McGregor’s despairing dive to his left and into the corner of the net.
John Lundstram tried to provide a quick response for Rangers and his surging run into the Lyon penalty area had the home fans on their feet. The midfielder went down too easily under a challenge from Lucas Pacqueta, however, and Swedish referee Andreas Ekberg dismissively waved away the optimistic appeals for a penalty.
But it did spark another lively spell from Rangers and Lopes was forced into a decent save from Joe Aribo after Kent had done well to hold the ball up.
Opportunities were being created more regularly now and Kent and Morelos linked up cleverly on the left to set up the next one for Lundstram who was unfortunate to see his shot slip narrowly wide of Lopes’ left hand post.
While Rangers were the dominant side again in terms of possession and territory, Lyon should have doubled their lead in the 38th minute when Pacqueta’s cute pass through the legs of a bemused Barisic sent Houssem Aouar clear down the right. His low cross found Malo Gusto unmarked inside the box but he scuffed his shot wide.
Rangers finished the first half on the front foot and it needed a fine save low to his left from Lopes to prevent Kent from grabbing the equaliser with a well struck shot.
The second half saw Lyon start to try and press Rangers much higher up the pitch and coach Peter Bosz’s tactical change had the desired effect from his perspective.
There was an element of fortune about their second goal in the 55th minute but it came as a result of them being far more aggressive in the final third.
As he was at the opener, Kent was robbed of possession as he turned into trouble on the edge of his own penalty area after initially winning the ball. In the bagatelle which followed, McGregor made a fine save from Aouar before Leon Balogun blocked an attempt by Pacqueta but Rangers were still unable to avert the danger.
When Isman Slimani forced the ball towards goal, Connor Goldson’s attempted clearance rebounded off Tavernier and crawled agonisingly over the line.
It was a long way back for Rangers now but the introduction of Scott Wright for Steven Davis gave them renewed attacking impetus. Lyon continued to defend robustly but Lopes was mightily relieved to see a sweetly struck free-kick from Tavernier rebound to safety off his right hand post.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Lundstram, Davis (Wright 60), Kamara; Aribo (Sakala 76), Morelos, Kent (Roofe 70). Subs not used: McCrorie, McLaughlin, Bassey, Patterson, Bacuna, Kelly, Arfield, McClelland.
Lyon (4-3-3): Lopes, Gusto, Denayer, Boateng (Diomande 65), Emerson; Guimaraes, Pacqueta, Caqueret; Ekambi (Shaqiri 71), Slimani, Aouar. Subs not used: Pollersbeck, Bonnevie, Lukeba, Henrique, Cherki, Keita, Da Silva, Barcola.