THIS was one of those nights where you can say that you were there. It had to been seen to be believed.
It was a remarkable evening and one that Steven Gerrard won’t forget in a hurry. Neither will the hundreds of Rangers fans that made the trip to Moscow and saw their side lose a seven goal thriller.
Gerrard had urged his players to seize the moment and enjoy the occasion but Rangers were put through an emotional wringer. The lingering one will be disappointment, though, as their Group G campaign took another twist.
Ahead early on as Roman Eremenko put the ball into his own net, Rangers lost the lead twice and regained it twice as Daniel Candeias and Glenn Middleton scored in an end-to-end first half.
A Connor Goldson own goal to make it 2-2 summed up the shambolic nature of Rangers’ defensive performance, though, and that would ultimately cost them as Spartak netted twice in two minutes after the break to move 4-3 ahead.
That, somehow, was how it ended. A dream start had become a nightmare finish for Rangers and a first European defeat will be painful for manager and players alike.
Boss Gerrard only had one major selection call to make but there was a surprise switch as well. Glenn Middleton got the nod to replace Ryan Kent in attack, while Nikola Katic was brought back in at the other end as Joe Worrall dropped out.
It was a huge night for both but the importance couldn’t be underestimated for every one of the players that Gerrard put his faith in. Or for the 38-year-old himself.
The Spartak Stadium was far from full but the travelling Light Blues fans made sure their voices were heard. This impressive arena wasn’t intimidating, but it was a stage to shine on.
After just five minutes, it was the away section that had a reason to celebrate. A Middleton corner was swung in with pace and precision and, under pressure from Lassana Coulibaly, Eremenko could only divert the ball into his own net.
It was a perfect start for Rangers but the lead was lost before they could add to it. In truth, the equaliser had been coming for some time before it eventually arrived.
Spartak may have been out of form and under pressure but they didn’t look like a side that were short of confidence as they played on the front foot and looked to get at the ropey and out of sorts Gers defence.
Allan McGregor had to make a smart save to deny Salvatore Bocchetti as he tried his luck with a dipping volley from range, before Fernando fired wide on the angle. A dangerous run from Ivelin Popov came to a premature end when the forward dived on the edge of the area.
It was Spartak who looked more assured on the ball and who saw most of it. Eventually, they put it to good use as Lorenzo Melgarejo pulled them level.
The cross from the right flank wasn’t stopped at source as Popov was allowed to swing the ball to the back post. James Tavernier was beaten too easily and Melgarejo was able to convert from close range.
The pattern of defensive mistakes was now well established and it would follow for the remainder of a entertaining first half. There was more than a touch of quality about the finish from Candeias as he made it 2-1, though.
A long ball from Flanagan found the Portuguese in a central area. After controlling the pass, he swivelled and fired a low shot that was out of the reach of Aleksandr Maksimenko and just inside the right hand post.
At that stage, Gerrard would have been content to get to the break with a one goal advantage. He did, but not in the manner expected.
Rangers were once again masters of their own downfall as Spartak equalised for a second time. Flanagan had endured a torrid half and was beaten too easily by a Popov pass and a Nikolai Rasskazov cross.
It should have been dealt with fairly comfortably but Goldson couldn’t get his feet sorted quickly enough and a weak attempt to clear saw him direct the ball beyond a helpless McGregor.
Once again, Rangers had to regroup. Once again, they responded in admirable fashion.
Spartak were even more inept as a defensive unit than the one in white and Middleton scored the fifth goal of the half with a low finish after the ball broke to him on the left.
The positives outweighed the negatives at that stage. The job was only half done for Rangers.
Gerrard would have demanded improvements at the back during the interval but Spartak were in again just two minutes after the restart. The save from McGregor, blocking a Sofiane Hanni strike with his feet, was superb.
The same can be said about the stop from a Hanni flick but Luiz Adriano headed home with the keeper stranded. Just seconds later, McGregor could only watch on again as 3-3 became 4-3.
Hanni took the credit this time but his drive from 25 yards took a wicked deflection off Goldson and the ball was diverted away from a disbelieving McGregor. On the park and in the stands, Rangers were stunned.
The game should have been outwith their grasps with 15 minutes remaining but Bocchetti rattled the bar with a header and then saw McGregor somehow save his follow up effort with his foot. Remarkably, Rangers still had a chance.
It was one they couldn’t take, however. A penalty box scramble ended with the ball cleared rather than in the net as Tavernier hit the post, while Andy Halliday fired wide from distance.
That was that. A game that was there to be won was lost and an unbeaten run on the continent had come to an end.
Now Rangers must hope their dreams of a knockout berth don’t suffer the same fate as Group G gets set to go down to the wire.