Disaster Night For Rangers
Rangers crashed out of Europe tonight, suffering without question their worst-ever European defeat 1-2 at the hands of Lithuanian side Kaunas.
It is scarcely comprehensible that this is the same Rangers team who marched so proudly to the UEFA Cup Final less than three months ago, although perhaps the seeds of tonight's exit were sown last season when Rangers were burdened with a crippling fixture list and suffered from a manipulated schedule.
It was both wet and miserable in Kaunas tonight - the old stadium offering virtually no cover whatsoever for the rain-soaked spectators.
Manager Walter Smith made just one change from the first leg with Nacho Novo replacing Jean-Claude Darcheville, and the little Spaniard almost made it a dream start for the visitors when his cross-cum-shot was touched over by home goalkeeper Marian Kello.
Rangers, wearing all-blue, made all the running in search of the crucial opener - and it might have arrived in fourteen minutes when Christian Dailly played a through ball to Kenny Miller only for the forward to lob over the bar.
Two minutes later, Rafael Ledesma's 25-yard free-kick was held by Allan McGregor.
There was no letting up of the rain, and in a mostly uninspiring period Miller's grounder from a Sasa Papac cross was held by Kello.
Kevin Thomson opened the scoring in 33 minutes when hesqueezed the ball home from a tight angle after good work by Novo on the left.
Rangers appeared in command, yet six minutes later Ledesma's inswinging free-kick was missed altogether by McGregor but edged narrowly wide.
That warning went unheeded however - Kaunas equalising in 43 minutes when Nerijus Raszius' thirty-yard free-kick bulleted past McGregor.
The Lithuanians now looked the likelier, and only the width of the crossbar kept the scores level in 54 minutes when a mazy run by Marius Cinikas ended with a shot that struck the woodwork.
Kaunas had the edge - five minutes later Adrian Mrowiec's header from a Nukai Makchkava cross was held by McGregor.
Andrius Velicka replaced Charlie Adam in 65 minutes, and should have marked his return to his homeland fourteen minutes later when he shot over with the goal at his mercy from a Papac cutback.
Similarly Dailly should have put thetie beyond doubt in 82 minutes when he sliced a Velicka knockdown over the bar.
Sixty seconds later Ledesma was inches away from connecting with Raszius' driven cross as the tie balanced on a knife-edge.
The world came crashing down around Rangers in 87 minutes when a Ledesma corner was headed home at the near post by Linas Pilibaitis.
In a last desperate throw of the dice both Kris Boyd and Kyle Lafferty were brought on for Miller and Novo - but time had run out on the Ibrox men.
Manchester now seems light years away, and afterwards a crestfallen Walter Smith commented:
KAUNAS Kello; Raszius, Bagitis (Grigalevicius 65), Zelmikas, Manchkhava; Pilibaitis, Luksa (Mamic 76), Mendy, Mrowiec; Ledesma (Zubavicius 87), Cinikas
RANGERS McGregor; Whittaker, Broadfoot, Weir, Papac; Novo (Lafferty 87), Dailly, McCulloch, Thomson, Adam (Velicka 65); Miller (Boyd 87)