IT is going down to the wire. The scenario that Steven Gerrard would have taken at the start of the section is now the reality for Rangers.

Six points from five games leaves them third in Group G with just one fixture to play. If they can follow up their win over Rapid Vienna at Ibrox with another away from home, then a place in the next round will be secured.

Given what Rangers have achieved on their remarkable European run so far this season, few would back against them doing just that. It is all to play for.

Gerrard didn’t get the win over Villarreal that he wanted here but he will be proud of the efforts of his side once again as they recovered from the red card wrongly shown to Daniel Candeias before the break to take a share of the spoils from the Spaniards for a second time.

When Gerrard was asked on Wednesday what he felt Rangers required from their last two matches, he reckoned that four points was the minimum if a knockout berth was going to be clinched. He was right.

He surely, like most, would have expected Spartak to beat Vienna on home soil.

That wasn’t the case, though.

As supporters took their seats here, the permutations would have been discussed and debated following Vienna’s surprise 2-1 victory in the early kick-off.

Rangers could no longer be eliminated from the competition here. Now, they will head to Austria next month knowing exactly what is required.

All the ‘what if?’ scenarios were for before and after this game, not during a thrilling 90 minutes under the floodlights. Rangers, first and foremost, had to take care of business and look to overcome a side that really should have beaten them on Matchday One.

Gerrard had called upon Ibrox to play its part on what he hoped would be a memorable European night. Villarreal were not to be feared or respected too much.

The decibel levels steadily rose before kick-off as the Light Blue legions created the perfect backdrop to the occasion, but the excitement was soon replaced with a nervousness.

The contrast in styles was clear. Rangers were high tempo and full of energy but it was Villarreal that had the real quality on the ball and there was a sense of trepidation every time the yellow shirts attacked with pace and precision.

The visitors cut through Rangers too easily at times but they found Allan McGregor in inspired form once again. He was left helpless as Carlos Bacca narrowly failed to connect with a Karl Toko Ekambi cross but two saves from the Cameroonian were crucial.

Ekambi only had McGregor to beat when he got in behind Joe Worrall but McGregor spread himself well to make a terrific block. Just before the break, he denied the forward again as boss Javier Calleja was left to rue his side’s profligacy in the final third.

The chances that fell Ekambi’s way were the best that Villarreal could carve out. At the other end, there were a series of near misses for Rangers.

Scott Arfield was the first to test keeper Andres Fernandez with a poked effort from inside the area, while Alfredo Morelos saw a shot blocked and a flick from the resultant corner miss the target.

There was plenty of endeavour from Rangers but their play was frantic and scrappy at times and too many moves broke down prematurely.

Both of their clearest chances came from set pieces. A Glenn Middleton free-kick was recycled by Arfield at the back post but Connor Goldson couldn’t convert after Worrall had nodded the ball back into the area. The former Brighton stopper later connected with another cross but his header was easily held by Fernandez.

Gerrard would have been content at that stage but Rangers’ job got harder before they could return to the dressing room and regroup ahead of a huge 45 minutes.

A skirmish flared up on the far side of the park after a challenge from Alfredo Morelos on Santiago Caseres. Candeias inadvertently tripped over the midfielder and was inexplicably shown a second yellow card. The Portuguese protested his innocence, but to no avail.

A fan jumped over the hoardings from the Sandy Jardine Stand to confront the linesman and was led away by stewards and police. He, and the decision from referee Matej Jug, were met with a vociferous backlash from a furious home crowd.

Seconds later, the whistle blew for half-time and Jug was once again the centre of attention as the players made their way off. Rangers were very much up against it now.

It took them until just before the hour mark to get a sight of goal as Middleton, now playing closer to Morelos through the middle, collected a James Tavernier pass and fired over after spinning well on the edge of the area.

By that stage, McGregor had dived at Ekambi’s feet to deny him once again. It was a frantic, at times desperate, defensive showing from Rangers as the minutes ticked by slowly.

Every one that elapsed got Rangers closer to an unlikely point. Gerrard’s side stuck to their task, with each tackle or pass cheered and their rare forays forward met with a roar of encouragement.

The loudest one was saved for the 76th minute but it quickly came to an end. Morelos did brilliantly on the left and found Ryan Jack before the ball was shuttled to Arfield and then to Tavernier.

A cross from the right found Middleton and the youngster converted at the second attempt. His joy was short-lived, though, as the offside flag denied him the biggest goal of his career.

Gerrard introduced Kyle Lafferty as Morelos was given a warm reception for his efforts and the Northern Irishman almost made an immediate impact as he burst forward and tested Fernandez with a dipping effort that he had to parry away.

It led to a spell of pressure from Rangers as Middleton whipped in a couple of corners and the belief was surging through everyone in blue on and off the park. The stage was set and Gerrard needed a hero.

Nobody in Light Blue could emerge as the match winner but every one had played their part. This wasn’t a win, but it some ways it felt like one for Rangers.

A journey that started out against Shkupi back in July has at least one more stop in Vienna. Only time will tell if another will follow.