Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Dismal night for Rangers boss

Rangers manager Walter Smith admitted the 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Romanian outfit Unirea Urziceni in the Champions League was among his worst experiences in European football.

Smith pointed to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Juventus during his first spell in charge back in 1995, and Rangers' humiliating exit from the competition to Lithuanian minnows Kaunas at the qualifying stage just over a year ago.

But as far as Smith was concerned, tonight's rout at Ibrox was right up there.

Asked whether it was his lowest point in continental competition, he replied: "Possibly. It's kind of early after the game to be thinking about that.

"We lost 4-0 to Juventus but they ended up European champions that year and they were excellent. It's a big bit of a low point at the present moment, never mind when I sit down and think about it."

Rangers are now rock bottom of Group G, which also includes favourites Sevilla and Stuttgart, with hopes of progressing now depending on a win in Bucharest when they face Unirea again early next month.

"It's very difficult after a result like that, and added to the Sevilla result previously, for us to look at the group," said Smith.

"We've got to look at ourselves first and say we have to show a vast improvement. The strangest thing is that we managed to get a draw and a good performance in Stuttgart but we've never followed that up.

"We have a situation where we are all still involved strangely enough and, from our own point of view, we will have to look at our performance and pick ourselves up."

The Scottish champions enjoyed a dream start when a Pedro Mendes shot was deflected into the back of his own net by Ricardo Vilana with less than two minutes gone.

The visitors then levelled through Marius Ioan Bilasco before Steven Davis squandered the opportunity to reclaim the lead for Rangers when his penalty was saved shortly before the break.

There was worse to come for Smith's men in the second half with own-goals from Kyle Lafferty and Lee McCulloch handing Unirea the advantage, before Pablo Brandan completed the rout.

"We couldn't have got off to be a better start in the game but after that we looked a little bit nervous strangely enough," said Smith.

"Unirea were the team who settled quickest in terms of overall possession of the ball.

"Although they had some good possession of the ball, there was never any great threat goal-wise, their goal being their first attempt at goal.

"After that we lost three goals that, really, at any level of football we shouldn't be losing. That was the most disappointing factor.

"The overall game was then turned on them scoring so many goals so quickly at the start of the second half and that was a difficult thing for us."

Smith absolved Davis of blame for the result, despite claims from Unirea boss Dan Petrescu that the penalty was the turning point of the match.

"Not entirely, no," said the Rangers boss.

"I feel that after getting off to a good start, we didn't really impose ourselves on the game at all in terms of our overall possession of the ball.

"We did get the break for the penalty and we missed it. But, at the end of the day, it might have ended up 4-2 by the way the game was going.

"That type of defending at any level of football is not good enough and we should be able to handle the situation better than that.

"You are left looking at an overall performance where Unirea were probably better than we were over the game. Overall, it was a disappointing evening for us."

Petrescu was welcomed into his post-match media conference with applause from the Romanian journalists but urged caution about their own hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Petrescu said: "I'm very happy but realistic. We know we have not qualified. If we qualify, this victory will be history but if we don't this victory will mean nothing.

"Our players should have their feet on the ground. Everything depends on the next game. If we don't lose the next game, we have a big chance to qualify for third place. After that, we will think about second place."

Petrescu claimed beforehand that defeat would be a disaster for Rangers and expressed his surprise at their opponents playing with just one striker - Kenny Miller - in a home match where the three points were crucial.

"We never expected them to only play with one forward," admitted the former Chelsea star.

"I was surprised. I knew they had played before with one striker but knowing this was a game for them to win I thought they would play with two strikers and that's why we prepared for the game differently.

"Their coach did very well to surprise me and that's why I had to react and change. In the end, maybe that risk paid off."

Rangers striker Kenny Miller was honest enough to admit the crushing defeat was more than simply a bad night at the office.

Miller said: "It was way beyond disappointing, it was embarrassing.

"Not playing well enough is an understatement.

"We were off the pace and never got at them even though we scored an early goal and were playing at home.

"We were definitely not at the races.

"There was a mad 20-minute spell at the start of the second half and we were 4-1 down.

"We just weren't good enough."

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