RANGERS may have made life more difficult for themselves than they needed to, but the end ultimately justify the means for Steven Gerrard’s side.

A place in the knockout rounds of the Europa League is thoroughly merited and now top spot in Group D is in their sights ahead of the final match with Lech Poznan next week.

Progression should have been secured against Benfica, and Standard Liege could have been seen off more comfortably. But those frustrations don’t matter right now after goals from Connor Goldson, James Tavernier and Scott Arfield earned Rangers the win they needed at Ibrox.

This wasn’t Rangers at their finest, far from it. The result was always going to be more important than the performance, though, and Gerrard and his players now have knockout football to look forward to for the second consecutive season.

A competition that has given Rangers so much continues to provide opportunities. Time will tell what their domestic ambitions are by the time they take to the last 32 next year.

Given what was at stake and the chance that was in front of them, it was expected that Rangers would start assertively and positively at Ibrox. Instead, they were uncharacteristically flat and sloppy, both with the ball and without it.

The opening minutes were a warning that Rangers didn’t take notice of as Standard looked bright and sharp and, even when the visitors took the lead, there was no real surge from Gerrard’s side. With no Ibrox crowd to spur them on, the motivation and enthusiasm had to come from within.

The opening goal was really poor from a Rangers perspective. The cross from Duje Cop wasn’t stopped at source as Standard attacked down their left – a particular theme of the evening – and Maxime Lestienne converted from close range.

It was the first time this term that Rangers had fallen behind at Ibrox, but the reaction wasn’t exactly immediate as Gerrard’s side struggled to get going and were second best for large spells. At that stage, it wasn’t going to plan and Liege seemed to have Rangers sussed.

Standard were crisper with their passing and carried more of threat than Rangers as Alfredo Morelos couldn’t hold the ball up and Ryan Kent and Kemar Roofe found the going tough. The same can be said of Tavernier and Borna Barisic as the main men for Rangers were nullified too often.

It was a surprise, then, when Rangers equalised after 38 minutes as Goldson rose well and powered home a header from Barisic’s corner. It should have been the spark required, but it there was no momentum shift.

Rangers were masters of their own downfall once again. Glen Kamara was slack with his pressing, while opportunities to clear a cross from Collins Fai were squandered as Cop got in at the back post and converted before clattering into the woodwork.

The response from Rangers was more immediate second time around. An effort from Roofe was saved and initially given as a corner but a handball from Lestienne was spotted.

Tavernier made the most of his chance from 12 yards, and in emphatic fashion. This was his 15th goal of the campaign as he fired the ball high into Arnaud Bodart’s net to restore parity and Rangers once again had a place in the last 32 in their sights.

If they were to claim it, they would have to raise their levels, however. The message from Gerrard in the dressing room would surely have been stern as well as encouraging, but his side had little to show for his efforts as Rangers still struggled to find any composure at either end of the park.

Given how assured they have looked at this level this season, this was a performance that had come out of the blue. News that Benfica had extended their lead against Lech ensured half the job was done for Rangers, but there was no guarantee that they would hold up their side of the bargain going into the final half hour.

They soon took a huge step, though, as they finally found a bit of rhythm with the ball at their feet. The pass from Kamara to send Kent in behind was pinpoint, while the finish from Arfield after a neat cutback was clinical as Rangers moved ahead for the first time.

A fourth would have sealed it but Tavernier’s free-kick was well saved by Bodart before the keeper made two excellent stops to get a touch on a Barisic free-kick and tip away another Goldson header. Just minutes later, Roofe squandered a glorious chance as he fired straight at the keeper.

It wouldn’t come back to bite Rangers on this occasion and there was no late drama like the draws with Benfica. This time, Gerrard’s side would see it out.

This wasn’t the most thrilling occasion of Gerrard’s reign, but it was certainly another notable achievement as Rangers continue to improve and impress on the continent.

Their focus now shifts back to domestic matters and the pursuit of silverware. They need not make that ambition difficult for themselves, either.