STEVEN Gerrard last night described the performance of his 10 man Rangers side as "heroic" after they ground out a 0-0 draw with Villarreal that keeps their hopes of reaching the Europa League last 32 alive.

Gerrard's team suffered a massive setback in their penultimate Group G match when Daniel Candeias was harshly sent off for a second bookable offence by Swiss referee Matej Jug just before half-time.

But the home side held on for a draw despite being a player down and can now progress to the knockout rounds of the tournament if they beat section leaders Rapid Vienna in Austria in 13 days' time.

Gerrard, who denied that Ovie Ejaria had been left out of the starting line-up for disciplinary reasons after turning up late for training, declined to comment on the Candeias sending off until he had seen a replay of the incident that led to the red card.

But the Liverpool and England great was effusive in his praise of his charges and of the 50,171-strong crowd who had backed them after they had their winger red carded.

“It was a heroic night," he said. "I’m very proud of the players and Daniel Candeias has got a lot of friends in that dressing room. Every single one of them rolled their sleeves up and dug in against a fantastic team full of top, top players.

"To compete against this level of opponent over two games and not lose makes me very proud and satisfied in the circumstances. It’s fantastic in the circumstances.

"The crowd were our 12th man tonight - we couldn’t have taken anything out the game without the crowd. They understood the position we were in with 10 men. They gave the players energy and were with the players all the way.

"We had some really good moments with 10 men and we might even have stolen the three points in the end. I’m not saying we deserved to win on the balance of play, but it would have been very cruel if we didn’t take at least a point."

Asked about the Candeias incident, Gerrard said: “I’d like to see it again as I was over the other side of the pitch. I’d be guessing right now but I’ll certainly analyse the incident and then make a judgement. Daniel feels hard done by, but I would like to see it again.

Gerrard, whose side had to come through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stages, stressed he was looking forward to the rematch with Rapid, who Rangers beat 3-1 at home last month.

“For sure, the players have set up an absolutely fantastic match in Vienna to reach the last 32 in Europe," he said. "If we manage to do it, that will represent enormous strides.

"We have two weeks to prepare and hopefully we can some through and go with a fully fit squad. We’ll go and give it a go but I would have taken this, certainly when Shkupi came here on the first step of this journey.

Asked about the absence of Ejaria, Gerrard said: "It was tactical. He was late a couple of days ago but came to me and apologised and the matter is closed.

"I wouldn’t drop a player for being late - that can happen, players can miss buses, trains and planes. I’m not going to drop a player in those circumstances for such a big European fixture. For being late? No chance. It also means he’s fresh for Sunday at Tynecastle now."

Gerrard singled out Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who pulled off important saves in both halves to keep the scoreline level, for special praise at the end of the 90 minutes.

He said: "Just one word - wow. Wow. I’m running out of things to say about him, he has been top class since day one, every single day in training and games. Just wow. Those saves tonight? Wow."

Villarreal manager Javier Calleja said: “We did enough to win. We had a lot of chances, but the group is very even with everyone still capable of qualifying.

“It’s frustrating as we had the extra player in the second half but we couldn’t quite create enough chances. Rangers are at home and their fans created a very good atmosphere for them.

“Anything can happen in the group and that shows the quality within it. Fortunately, qualification is still in our hands and we hope to secure it with the win over Spartak at home in a fortnight.

“We didn’t score so we’re unhappy that we wasted a few chances. A goal would have changed the game but we have confidence we performed well, we just didn’t do enough in the final third.”