Rangers’ dreams of an immediate return to the Champions League group stage were extinguished in excruciating fashion by a ruthless PSV in Eindhoven.
The Ibrox side had harboured hopes of exorcising last season’s disfigured continental campaign but were unable to eject the Dutch from the competition in the way they did here last term.
Ismael Saibari’s first-half header nudged PSV ahead on aggregate for the first time in the tie, and the Moroccan added a second not long after the break. Game over? Not quite.
James Tavernier’s strike gave Rangers a slither of hope, but Luuk de Jong guided in a header within a couple of minutes, before Joey Veerman’s suspiciously offside effort and a grotesque Connor Goldson own goal completed a chastening evening.
It means that instead of joining Celtic in the Champions League, Rangers will return to the Europa League group stage for their first foray in that competition since the 2022 final defeat in Seville.
“It’s fair that PSV goes through,” said Rangers manager Michael Beale. “I thought the story of the two legs was we couldn’t handle [Ismael] Saibari and [Luuk] de Jong.
“I think we played against an excellent team over two legs. For this team coming together after a lot of change, this game came far too soon, that’s what’s clear.”
Despite an admirable opening quarter, this outcome always seemed the most likely once PSV ratcheted up their play to a level Rangers struggled to handle.
Jack Butland had to make a couple of splendid saves and De Jong somehow planted a back-post header wide but the dam eventually burst.
Saibari’s first came after a piercing move and his second was a smart finish from a De Jong cutback. Both were befitting of his status as the best performer on the pitch.
Striker De Jong added his name to the register with a glancing header, Veerman slewed in a shot amid shouts for offside, then Goldson got into a fankle trying to return a ball to Butland and ending up shunting it into his own net.
Mercifully, it ended there, but only after Butland shovelled another couple of attempts away as PSV threatened to run riot on an evening when they vanquished a few demons of their own.
The Dutch had spoken all week about gaining revenge for last year. In the second half here, they franked that talk with deed.
Beale had said his team were “due a big performance”, but they were unable to deliver in this cauldron of noise. They are not the first – PSV have not lost here since November – but the manner in which they folded will be a cause for concern.
What impact might that disappointment – and the physical toil of this tie – have on Rangers as they prepare for the season’s first Old Firm game on Sunday?
That remains to be seen but, if he looks hard enough, the manager might be able to pick some scraps from this in the days between now and then.
What if Goldson’s flicked header had gone the other side of the post? What if Rabbi Matondo hadn’t scudded an upright after an outrageous dart through the PSV defence? What if they’d not conceded so soon after Tavernier guided in Sam Lammers’ cross to make it 2-1?
That, though, is all moot right now. What matters is Sunday. Celtic. Then the Europa League.
Rangers manager Michael Beale: “Obviously we scored three goals over the two games, but we’re bitterly disappointed with the way we defended.
“I thought the story of the two legs was we couldn’t handle Saibari and De Jong. It’s fair that PSV goes through.”
Rangers captain James Tavernier: “It’s just disappointed with the manner of the goals but it’s something that we have to brush off really quick because we’ve got a massive game at the weekend.
“It’s still really raw and disappointing. We can’t dwell on it too much. We’ve got to brush this off as quickly as possible. I know everyone’s hurting. We’ve got to respond in a really good way.”
Just the small matter of an Old Firm game, with Celtic coming to Ibrox on Sunday (12:00 BST). And before then, the Europa League draw takes place from 12:00 on Friday.
PSV, for what it’s worth, visit RKC Waalwijk on Saturday in the Eredivisie.