RANGERS couldn’t sink the Yellow Submarine in Spain. But Steven Gerrard’s side showed they can keep their heads above water in the Europa League.

The Light Blues haven’t faced a side of Villarreal’s quality on Gerrard’s watch so far, and they are unlikely to do so again this term. This was far from their most accomplished performance, but it is certainly their most eye-catching result.

Behind to goals from Carlos Bacca and then Gerard Moreno, Rangers showed admirable spirit to twice come back and level through Scott Arfield and Kyle Lafferty. The point was well earned and well deserved as they got their Europa League group stage campaign off to an impressive start.

It was a sign of the progress that Rangers have made under Gerrard that the 38-year-old fancied his chances against one of the top teams in La Liga and a side that are an established European outfit. Now, Rangers must continue to stride forward in the coming weeks and months as they look to build on the foundations they have laid early in the season.

Gerrard achieved his first major ambition as boss by guiding his side through the four qualifying rounds and into the group stages. In terms of cash and kudos, it was an important step for the club after eight years away from proper European football.

These six matches are a reward for their efforts against Shkupi, Osijek, Maribor and Ufa but there has been no sense of Rangers just being content to be here. They are in Group G to compete and attempt to qualify, not just make up the numbers.

No matter how the rest of the campaign unfolds, the experience gained, for both Gerrard and his players, will be invaluable. Nights like this will tell Gerrard plenty about just where his side are, and how far they have yet to travel to get back to where they want to be.

The trip to Villarreal was one of the toughest ties that Rangers could have been handed on the opening evening of the competition. It was a test Gerrard had faith his side could rise to, though, and he made a big call by handing Joe Worrall his debut.

It was quite an environment for the 21-year-old, signed from Nottingham Forest on deadline day, to make his Light Blues bow. The steep stands of the Estadio de la Cerámica were far from full, but it was still an imposing arena for Gerrard and his players.

The message from the manager would have been to keep it tight in the opening stages and look to stifle and frustrate Villarreal. Inside 43 seconds, that plan was out the window.

Bacca collected a pass from Pablo Fornals and got the break of the ball as Worrall and Connor Goldson got in each other’s way. That was all that was lucky about the goal, though.

The strike from the Colombian was superb and left Allan McGregor with no chance as the ball looped over his head and into the net. It was a moment of magic and real quality from the star man in yellow.

Rangers’ task had just become significantly harder. They stuck to it but were nowhere near their best in a frustrating and uncharacteristic first half.

While Villarreal stroked the ball about with pace and precision, Fornals and Nicola Sansone their most impressive performers, Rangers struggled to do anything with their possession as they gave it up with alarming regularity.

Too many moves broke down prematurely as passes went astray and wrong choices were made. Up front, Lafferty cut a lonesome figure as Arfield failed to provide back-up from the middle of the park.

A strike from Santi Cazorla late in the half that McGregor palmed away was as close as Villarreal came to doubling their advantage but Rangers never looked like wiping it out.

When they got in position to test what Gerrard had identified as a suspect defence in the air, their delivery wasn’t good enough. Chances, and positives, were hard to come by.

The Spaniards hadn’t been particularly scintillating but there was plenty of room for improvement for Gerrard’s side after the break. Rangers delivered.

Within minutes of the restart, they should have been further behind. McGregor did well to close down and block Karl Toko Ekambi but was left helpless when the ball fell to Bacca.

The striker had time and space but rushed his shot and put a tame effort wide of an empty net. It was a major let-off for Rangers, as it was when Ekambi fired over at the back post.

Rangers were still in it and still had hope as the hour mark came and went. They had belatedly come into the game but keeper Andres Fernandez wasn’t being tested.

That wasn’t the case for McGregor, though, as he denied Ramiro Funes Mori with a terrific save low to his right. He was again quick off his line to frustrate Sansone and it was Fornals this time who couldn’t capitalise with the goal gaping.

Within seconds, Rangers made the most of their reprieve. James Tavernier pierced the Villarreal defence with a trademark run and appealed for a penalty as the ball broke to Daniel Candeias.

The Portuguese picked out Arfield and the midfielder finished well into the roof of the net to bring Rangers level. It didn’t last, though.

No sooner had the Gers finished celebrating than another inquest had begun as substitute Moreno cut inside Borna Barisic and fired the ball beyond McGregor at his near post. The joy had been short-lived for Gerrard.

Rangers had it all to do once again. They did it. Glenn Middleton set Barisic free down the left flank and his cross found Lafferty. It was one of Rangers’ best moves of the night and the Northern Irishman finished it clinically with a low strike to earn Rangers a point.

The final ten minutes were tense as the clock ticked down and Rangers debated whether to stick or twist. Villarreal threatened, but Arfield should have won it when slipped through by Graham Dorrans.

When Bacca headed wide from six yards, it was destined to be one of those nights for Rangers. The job had been done and Gerrard would rightly be proud of his players.

It was the band of Rangers supporters high in the El Madrigal stands that were singing in the closing minutes and after the final whistle. For Rangers, this was certainly a result to celebrate.