THOUSANDS around him were losing their heads but Steven Gerrard kept his cool. Deep down, he knew his players would as well.

As Ibrox erupted in anger at the red card shown to Daniel Candeias, and as Villarreal sensed their chance to clinch victory, Gerrard regrouped and his side recovered.

Losing the Portuguese on the brink of half time may have ultimately cost Rangers the chance to go and secure the three points that would have left them just one away from a Europa League knockout berth.

But the draw that they ultimately earned was a just reward for their efforts on the night as they dug deep to stifle, and perhaps scare, their La Liga visitors at a packed Ibrox.

Playing with a man disadvantage is not a new situation for Gerrard’s side but this was their toughest assignment to date. It was a challenge Rangers rose to with aplomb.

“We’ve said on many occasions we have a fantastic group of honest players and players who want to play football, win and work hard for one another,” Gerrard said.

“We set down the basics and non-negotiables in pre-season, fighting for each other and running hard and doing the dirty work and the stuff that goes unnoticed.

“And everyone has really bought into that and we put the base down in pre-season and the players have carried it on. They have been faced with some big challenges and done well so far.

“I was obviously concerned in the situation, especially at this level in the Europa League. You are concerned but we have big trust in the players and in us as a staff that we can find a solution and help the players get it over the line.

“They’ve got to go and carry it out but we’ve got to go and give them a way and a game plan to stick to if we’re a man or two down and they carried that game plan out really, really well.”

Gerrard didn’t quite have a decision to make between stick or twist as he addressed his players at half-time but the 38-year-old did have to devise a plan for a hugely significant 45 minutes of action.

Glenn Middleton was paired with Alfredo Morelos in a central area, and while Villarreal were able to carve out a series of chances, Rangers had opportunities of their own during a thrilling encounter.

“It boils down to maths,” Gerrard said of his decision to keep Middleton in attack rather than add another defensive minded player to the team. “The two centre halfs of Villarreal, we were quite comfortable with them having possession.

“They are not going to hurt us so you take them two out of it then it’s quite even if we do the maths. If we stay compact and do the dirty running and every single player buys into it and does his job and 10 per cent more, you make up for that player loss.

“Of course, they are going to have moments and more possession and when (Santi) Cazorla came on it became a little more difficult as he could hurt us with a pass in behind but that’s when you need your keeper and central defenders to be big and be there in the important moments and the players delivered.

“It happened quite a few times when I played. More often than not it was me who got sent off, but I’ve been in situations where a team has ten men. Working for top managers throughout my career also helps in those situations.

“It happened to me a couple of times at youth level and we have lost a man on numerous occasions in the six months since we have been together here.”

Rangers may have had the odds stacked against them at Ibrox but Gerrard saw his players rise to the occasion as they battled to a deserved draw that leaves them needing a win in Vienna to progress to the knockout stages.

It was keeper Allan McGregor that was the main man for the Light Blues, with a string of superb stops throughout the match ultimately crucial in helping Rangers clinch a point.

“I don’t think it’s luck,” Gerrard said. “I think we have rode our luck at times in certain games. Of course we have but you’ve got to.

“However, those two saves last night were down to talent and ability. For me, he is the best shot-stopper up here. He is right up with the best when it comes down to one v ones and shot-stopping. No doubt.

“I remember watching him in a lot of Old Firms for many years. As a Liverpool player, you are thinking, ‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of him’.

“Not just on talent and ability but as a leader and a person. You can see a lot when you watch players. He was good enough to play in the top six down in England, no doubt about it.”

Before Rangers can look to finish the job in the Europa League later this month, Gerrard’s side have domestic matters to attend to first and foremost.

Victory over Hearts tomorrow afternoon would take them top of the Premiership for the first time this term. Villarreal was big, but this one is bigger for Rangers.

Gerrard said: “It is a traditional stadium. A lot of these new stadiums they are building are so grand and are a bit more distant from the pitch.

“Tynecastle reminds me of a Goodison Park or a White Hart Lane where the fans are right on top of you. It is a fantastic stadium. I went to the England game, but I also went to Hearts v St Johnstone to get a feel for the atmosphere.

“It is very tight to the pitch. The pitch is a couple of metres narrower than the one we play on at Ibrox.

“Every decision and every duel on the pitch is electric. It ignites the fans and the atmosphere which is great.

“It is a fantastic place to go and play. I am really looking forward to the game and the players should be relishing it. It should be a fantastic match.”