WALTER Smith last night criticised his players for defending which he labelled as unacceptable in a schoolboy match as he tried to come to terms with the lowest point of his European career as Rangers manager.
Smith saw his team's bid to qualify from Group G of the Champions League all but disintegrate as two own goals and a missed penalty were among the calamities that contributed to a 4-1 defeat at Ibrox against bottom seeds Unirea Urziceni of Romania.
Rangers are now isolated at the foot of their qualifying section with the solitary point they earned on matchday one against VfB Stuttgart in Germany. It was a second successive 4-1 home loss for Smith's men who fell by the same scoreline against top seeds Sevilla two weeks ago.
The veteran manager, taking charge of his 72nd European tie last night, admitted thoughts of qualification are now secondary to his concern in addressing a desperate level of performance which saw Rangers concede three goals in 16 second half minutes as Unirea achieved the greatest result of their previously unremarkable existence.
For the Ibrox club, it certainly amounted to the worst home defeat of their 53-year European history. Smith was at the helm in 1995, when Rangers suffered their heaviest home reverse in losing 4-0 to Juventus, but he admitted last night easily eclipsed that one in terms of personal disappointment.
"It is possibly the lowest point for me in Europe," said Smith. "It is kind of early after the game to start thinking about it, but when we lost 4-0 at home to Juventus a few years ago, they ended up as European champions. They were an excellent side. So, yes, this is a big bit of a low point at the present moment, never mind when I sit down to think about it."
Rangers failed to capitalise on a dream start last night, Pedro Mendes' deflected shot giving them a second minute lead. After Marius Bilasco's 32nd minute equaliser, Steven Davis saw a penalty kick saved by Unirea goalkeeper Daniel Tudor. Smith, however, refused to identify that as the key moment and instead hit out at his team's desperate defending during their second half capitulation. "We couldn't have got off to a better start in the game," observed Smith. "But after scoring the goal, we looked a little bit nervous strangely enough. Unirea were the team who settled quickest in terms of overall possession of the ball.
"Although they had some good possession, it was never really of any great threat. Their equaliser was really their first attempt at goal, although they had dominance of play.
"After that, we lost three goals that we shouldn't be losing at any level of football. That, if anything, was the most disappointing factor.
" The overall game was then turned, with them scoring so many goals so quickly at the start of the second half. That was the difficult thing for us.
"I don't entirely agree that the penalty was the turning point. I feel that we didn't impose ourselves on the game after getting off to a good start.
"We did get the break with the penalty. Okay, we missed it, but it might just have ended up 4-2 if we had scored it, the way the game was going.
"But the type of defending we had in conceding the goals at the start of the second half is not good enough at any level of football.
"We should be able to handle the situation better than that. Even then, you are left looking at an overall performance where Unirea were probably better than we were over the game. So, all in all, it was a disappointing evening for us.
"It is very difficult after a result like this one, added to the defeat against Sevilla, for us to look at the group. We have to look at ourselves first and say that we have to show a vast improvement.
"We managed to get a draw and a good performance in the first game in Stuttgart, but we haven't been able to follow that up. Strangely enough, we are still involved in it with Unirea and Stuttgart. We have to look at our performance and try and pick ourselves up."
Unirea can now turn the screw on Rangers when the team meet again in Bucharest on 4 November and their manager Dan Petrescu has ordered his jubilant players to retain their focus.
"If we qualify from this group, this will have been an historic result for Romanian football," said the former Chelsea player.
"But if we don't, it will just be another result in our history. Our players must keep their feet on the ground and not think they have qualified.
"Everything will depend on the next game in Bucharest. If we don't lose that, then we will have a big chance to at least finish third and qualify for the Europa League.
"I don't believe we played our best game tonight, but in the second half we had a bit of luck with the deflections and own goals.
" It was difficult for Rangers after they missed the penalty. I think that was the turning point, although I expected more pressure from Rangers in the second half."