Steven Davis’ dramatic 95th-minute goal gave Rangers a lifeline as they were beaten by Swedish side Malmo in the first part of their quest to reach the Champions League group stage.
The Northern Irishman rattled the ball home from the edge of the box as he salvaged something on a difficult night for Steven Gerrard’s side.
Soren Rieks and Veljko Birmancevic scored within two minutes of the restart to put Malmo in command, and they looked set to maintain their lead, but for Davis’ crucial intervention.
It puts Rangers in a stronger position for the return leg next Tuesday at Ibrox, where they boast a formidable record.
Shorn of Alfredo Morelos, Glen Kamara, Kemar Roofe and Leon Balogun – the latter three because of suspension – Rangers were still able to field a strong XI as they began their campaign to reach the group phase for the first time in 10 years.
The Scottish champions edged the first-half, as Ryan Kent and Scott Arfield had chances, but there was little goalmouth action at either end as both sides fought for control.
But Jon Dahl Tomasson’s Malmo came out of the dressing room a changed side as they put Rangers to the sword within two minutes of the referee’s whistle.
First, Birmancevic peeled away and dummied Arfield before finding Rieks at the back post, with the Danish wing-back firing a fantastic first-time volley beyond Allan McGregor.
And the veteran goalkeeper was barely back on his feet as Birmancevic rolled in off his left-hand post after James Tavernier had gifted Anders Christiansen the ball, which allowed the Danish midfielder to tee up his forward.
The calamitous start to the second period left Rangers startled as Malmo – backed by a raucous home support- swarmed round them, and Helander was fortunate not to concede a penalty which could have left Gerrard’s men in greater peril.
But soon the tempo cooled and Rangers looked for a response, but struggled to find a spark in the final third.
Scott Wright’s movement and pace looked the most likely source of a goal, and he did manage to tee up Fashion Sakala, only for the substitute’s effort to be blocked by a sturdy Malmo defence.
And that was the sum of Rangers’ clear chances, before Davis was afforded too much room on the edge of the box, which allowed him to use all of his experience to compose himself and lash the ball into the back of the net.
Man of the match – Veljko Birmancevic
What did we learn?
It’s an easy excuse – and one you probably won’t hear Gerrard making – but Rangers looked like a side with just one competitive game under their belt, while Malmo looked like one in the middle of their season.
The Swedish side caused a bit of a surprise by lining up in a 5-3-2 formation, which Rangers struggled to adjust to as Helander and Barisic left space in the left-hand channel throughout the first half.
Despite that, the first 45 minutes passed without the concession of a clear chance, but the start of the second was a lesson in maintaining concentration as Malmo overpowered Rangers to capitalise on their visitors’ slow start.
The biggest positive for Gerrard will be the fact his side eventually composed themselves to get back into the tie, and with more game time under their belt by the return leg, he will hope their attacking play clicks better because their delivery was uncharacteristically poor.
Wright put in another strong display and should start at Ibrox. Only Slavia Prague and Bayer Leverkusen have won in Govan in European competition since Gerrard took charge, so they will back themselves to progress, even with the away goal rule being scrapped.
Rangers are away to Dundee United on Saturday (12:30 BST) in the Scottish Premiership, before they attempt to overturn the 2-1 deficit against Malmo next Tuesday (20:00 BST).
- 24NielsenBooked at 67mins
- 4MoisanderBooked at 52mins
- 5RieksBooked at 18minsSubstituted forBeijmoat 88′minutes
- 10ChristiansenSubstituted forRakipat 89′minutes
- 9ColakSubstituted forAbubakariat 88′minutes
- 19BirmancevicSubstituted forNalicat 74′minutes
- 31BarisicBooked at 38mins
- 37ArfieldBooked at 70mins
- 11IttenBooked at 43minsSubstituted forSakalaat 63′minutes
- Szymon Marciniak
Match ends, Malmö 2, Rangers 1.
Second Half ends, Malmö 2, Rangers 1.
Goal! Malmö 2, Rangers 1. Steven Davis (Rangers) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ryan Kent.
Substitution, Malmö. Erdal Rakip replaces Anders Christiansen.
Substitution, Malmö. Abdul Malik Abubakari replaces Antonio-Mirko Colak.
Substitution, Malmö. Felix Beijmo replaces Sören Rieks.
Substitution, Malmö. Adi Nalic replaces Veljko Birmancevic.
Scott Arfield (Rangers) is shown the yellow card.
Lasse Nielsen (Malmö) is shown the yellow card.
Substitution, Rangers. Fashion Sakala replaces Cedric Itten.
Niklas Moisander (Malmö) is shown the yellow card.
Goal! Malmö 2, Rangers 0. Veljko Birmancevic (Malmö) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal.
Goal! Malmö 1, Rangers 0. Sören Rieks (Malmö) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the high centre of the goal. Assisted by Veljko Birmancevic.
Second Half begins Malmö 0, Rangers 0.
First Half ends, Malmö 0, Rangers 0.
Cedric Itten (Rangers) is shown the yellow card.
Borna Barisic (Rangers) is shown the yellow card.
Sören Rieks (Malmö) is shown the yellow card.
First Half begins.
Lineups are announced and players are warming up.