Rangers 1 Unirea Urziceni 4
Rangers’ Champions League aspirations are in tatters after an embarrassing defeat to Unirea Urziceni at Ibrox.
A second 4-1 home European defeat in succession leaves Rangers bottom of Group G with one point from three games and facing the return game in Romania in a fortnight knowing only a victory will do.
On the evidence of this match, few would countenance that prospect.
Pedro Mendes’ second-minute drive, which took a deflection off Unirea midfielder Ricardo Vilana before going in, gave the home side the perfect start.
However, in a bizarre night of football in Govan, the Light Blues proceeded to concede four goals, two of them own goals, while missing a penalty at 1-1.
After Marius loan Bilasco equalised just after the half-hour mark, Steven Davis had a spot-kick saved by Unirea keeper Daniel Tudor.
Half-time substitute Kyle Lafferty, on for Mendes, helped a Bruno Fernandes flick past Allan McGregor and into his own net before Lee McCulloch left McGregor stranded with a header just before the hour mark.
More woe followed when Pablo Brandan made it four to send the home fans heading to the exits with 25 minutes remaining.
More than 1,000 members of the Armed Forces had been given free tickets to the game and it was a night they are unlikely to forget either.
Although Ibrox was short of capacity, the atmosphere was cranked up after Mendes collected a Jerome Rothen corner at the edge of the box and drove towards goal, happy to see the ball take a significant deflection off Vilana before looping over Tudor.
However, instead of inspiring Rangers, the fortuitous goal was followed by a nervy period in which the visitors were allowed to play their way into the game.
With Unirea pressing high up the park, the Light Blues struggled to escape the confines of their own half.
There was the occasional flurry in the visiting box but in the 32nd minute Unirea deservedly drew level with a fine goal by striker Bilasco.
Midfielder Iulian Apostol split the Ibrox defence to send Brandan into the box and his cut-back from the left was easily slid in to the empty net by Bilasco.
Five minutes later Rangers had the chance to retain their lead when Fernandes was adjudged by referee Eric Braamhaar to have handled a David Weir header, following a looping Rothen free-kick into a packed penalty area.
Davis struck the penalty to Tudor’s right and watched in dismay as the goalkeeper dived to push the ball behind for a corner.
Lafferty replaced Mendes at the break but the Irishman’s first real involvement was five minutes later when he helped the visitors take the lead.
When Apostol’s low cross was delivered into the box, Fernandes flicked the ball on and it took the slightest of touches off the luckless Northern Ireland international before it sped past McGregor and in off the post.
It was all going horribly wrong for Walter Smith’s men and more trouble soon followed.
The boos rang out around Ibrox in the 59th minute when McCulloch headed a Brandan free-kick past McGregor to make it 3-1, and many Rangers supporters simply upped and left in disgust when Brandan fired in a 30-yard drive after taking a short free-kick from Apostol.
The rest of the game was played in a mixture of frustration and stunned silence until the final whistle, when the home fans revealed their unhappiness in no uncertain terms.
Rangers now have to somehow regroup, first of all for the SPL game against Hibernian on Saturday before they think of trying to salvage a European campaign which is unravelling game by game.