Steven Gerrard praised resolute Rangers for overcoming their stiffest test of the campaign as they booked their place in the last 32 of the Europa League with a game to spare.
The Ibrox side have yet to suffer defeat this term but flirted with their first disappointment in 24 games against a Standard Liege outfit who had to win to keep their own qualification hopes alive.
The Belgians twice led after Maxime Lestienne and Duje Cop struck either side of Connor Goldson’s equaliser.
But the resolve that has taken the Light Blues all the way to December without a blemish on their record shone through again and they claimed the win they needed thanks to James Tavernier’s penalty – the skipper’s 15th goal of the season – and Scott Arfield’s second-half winner.
Gerrard, speaking after the 3-2 win, said: “It was certainly a stiff test. That’s for sure. Standard Liege are a fantastic team with real dangerous players.
“They caused us real problems during the first half and we had to tweak certain things at half-time.
“We asked for a bit more in certain areas and I thought our second-half performance was much better. Over the course of the 90 minutes I thought we just deserved this result.
“We showed amazing character to come back into the game in the way we did.
©️ The Captain with his 15th goal of the season pic.twitter.com/4dQxgRVEp1
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) December 3, 2020
“I’ve been delighted with that attitude all season. All the tests we’ve had we’ve stood up. The game was finely set at half-time and it was about who was going to come out and really take this game and show they wanted it more. We really looked like a proper Rangers team in the second half.”
Gers went all the way to the last 16 last year and now have another major test to look forward to in the new year after chalking up the club’s 150th win in European competition.
And having reported £15.9million losses last week, progression to the knockout stages will provide a timely financial boost.
“Qualifying is a huge achievement if you think of the quality teams in the group, with Benfica, Lech Poznan and Standard Liege,” said Gerrard. “All really tough opponents.
“We’ve had to fight to the end of every single game to get what we need to qualify, so to do that with a game to go is really impressive. The players deserve a lot of praise for that.”
Speaking to BT Sport, he added: “Everyone knows it is big for financial reasons. I’m sure the board are pleased. More importantly it’s for the fans. They want to follow their team near and far, but unfortunately the circumstances don’t allow that right now.
“But we need to keep making them proud while they watch from home and the important thing is they stay safe. And my players want to compete against the best and be challenged by the best. So the longer we stay in Europe the better.”
Europe is vital to the club coffers, but Gerrard knows the priority is maintaining his side’s unbeaten start to the Premiership campaign.
He has the luxury of leaving behind his top stars when Rangers head to Poland for their final Group D clash against Poznan ahead of a tough run of league fixtures over the festive period.
But Gerrard is also reluctant to miss out on top spot in the section and see his team pass up the chance to be seeded for the last-32 draw.
He said: “We want to top the group but (resting players next week) is a decision I’ll have to make in the coming days.
“I have to see how we recover this game and how we come through the Ross County game.
“It’s fantastic to be sitting here now and the aim will be to win the group – but I also have to think about the big picture and make the right decisions for the domestic games too.”