STEVEN GERRARD almost missed out on the biggest achievement of his career when Liverpool showed AC Milan too much respect in Istanbul.

Now the Rangers manager has urged his players not to make the same mistake and cost themselves a Europa League berth when they face Villarreal this evening.

The Light Blues head into the Group G clash targeting the win that will put them on the brink of a knockout berth but fully aware that a defeat could bring an end to their run on the continent.

Gerrard lamented the first half performance in Spain on Matchday One as Rangers escaped with some credit and a point from a game that could easily have been beyond them before they battled to a dramatic 2-2 draw.

The 38-year-old insisted his players showed their opponents too much respect, and it wasn’t until Rangers got in the faces of their rivals and went toe-to-toe with them that they started to assert themselves on the match.

Rangers can’t afford to make the same mistake twice. Gerrard, fully aware of the consequences and with the survival tale to tell, simply won’t allow it at Ibrox.

“Of course - but I also understand it,” Gerrard said. “I’ve experienced it myself. In one of the biggest games I ever played in, we showed the opposition too much respect.

“AC Milan had the world’s best players in every position when we played them in that Champions League Final - but we showed them too much respect in the first half.

“So I’ve seen it happen many times and experienced it too many times. You can come away with regrets.

“Luckily enough for us in Villarreal, we had 45 minutes to address it. We spoke about it at half-time but the players deserved credit for playing with more freedom in the second half.

“We looked their equal. That’s where we want the players to take their minds back to in preparing for this game.

“It’s quite clear that if you stand off their players, if you give them too much time and space, you will get hurt. You make individual errors, you get hurt.

“With all due respect to some teams domestically, you can get away with certain things against certain opposition in the league.

“In the Europa League against teams like Villarreal, small mistakes get punished. So for us to get the result we want on Thursday night, we have to defend perfectly.”

That 2-2 draw in the Estadio de la Cerámica was followed by a win over Rapid Vienna and stalemate against Spartak Moscow as Rangers sat top of the table at the halfway stage of Group G.

The defeat in Moscow last time out has changed their standing, though, and a win for Spartak this evening would eliminate them if Villarreal are successful in Glasgow.

At least four points will be needed from the game here and in Vienna next month and Gerrard is determined to make it another night to remember at Ibrox.

“I would have settled for going into the last game needing to win it at the very beginning,” he said.

“The idea when it was drawn was that, we were the underdogs, but we go and give it our best shot to get out of the group.

“If someone had said to me at the beginning it would go down to the wire I would have signed up for it. Hopefully we get the right result.

“We are going to go for the win, we will be aggressive and positive and try and win the game. But, if that is not to be then it is very important that we take something out of it.

“I think they have won five games from 18 and whilst there is huge respect there we know they are comfortable in a technical game.

“The idea for us is to try and take them where they don’t want to go, make it uncomfortable, try and play at a tempo and speed that maybe they are not used to every week.

“We know we are going to have 50,000 fans roaring us on, that will be a huge help. For us, this is a fantastic challenge and we can’t wait for us.”

Gerrard achieved his first ambition as boss when Rangers clinched a group stage berth and added Ufa to their list of qualifying scalps as Skupi, Osijek and Maribor were overcome at the start of the season.

There would be no shame in the side that were seeded fourth going out at this stage of the competition. That is not, and never has been, in Gerrard’s mind, however.

“I want the last 32 and the players do,” he said. “I don’t think at a club like this you can be satisfied.

“You have to keep trying to push and go as far as you can go. If it’s not to be, I will be very proud of the players, what they’ve done and the journey we’ve been on.

“We know the supporters have enjoyed the journey so far but, if you’re a winner, you want to keep pushing. The challenge to the players is can you deliver the last 32 for these supporters.”

Whatever happens over the next 180 minutes of European action, and whether Rangers reach the next round or not, the signs of improvement and progress are clear at Ibrox.

This Europa League run has come just 12 months after the embarrassment of the defeat to Progres Niederkorn but there is still work to be done to establish Rangers as a proper force on the continent once again.

Gerrard said: “There is a long way to where we want to get to. There is a lot of improvement to do, individually and collectively. We are not getting carried away.

“We understand where we are compared to Villarreal. We know we are going to have to punch above our weight. But we have played at a level which people have respected this season in Europe and domestically at Ibrox.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘fortress’ for Ibrox yet, because it’s still early days. Come the end of the season, we hope we can look back on our home form and see that every single team who have come here have found it difficult.”