Kenny Miller missed a chance to silence his critics early on
Rangers struggled to a goalless draw against Lithuanian outfit Kaunas in the first leg of their second round Champions League qualifier at Ibrox.
Kenny Miller and Jean-Claude Darcheville both had efforts cleared off the goal-line in the first half.
Kaunas proved tough opposition and Mindaugas Grigalevicius gave the home side a scare with his low shot.
Nacho Novo also had an effort scrambled clear late in the game as Rangers were punished for a lacklustre showing.
With no parachute into the Uefa Cup, failure to progress from this two-legged tie into the Champions League third qualifying round would be unthinkable for Rangers.
An early exit would be all the more galling given the spirited European run last season.
This was the eighth time a Scottish club had faced Lithuanian opposition and only once had the Scottish side's defence been breached.
But Kaunas looked dangerous and their impressive run in domestic football looked to have translated favourably to the European stage. There was a sharpness in the tackle and speed of thought that was lacking in their hosts.
At kick-off there was a nervousness pervading Ibrox, with captain Barry Ferguson and last season's top player Carlos Cuellar missing from the line-up.
Rafael Ledesma, Kaunas' talented Brazilian playmaker, had been an injury doubt and a couple of early moves in which he was pivotal caused mild panic among the Ibrox support.
Kaunas' early play was characterised by purposeful runs on either side of Rangers' central defensive pairing of stand-in captain David Weir and Kirk Broadfoot.
In the first half Rangers had two excellent chances to grab the initiative.
With almost 20 minutes on the clock Charlie Adam found Kenny Miller unmarked 12 yards out. The Scotland striker prodded a shot beyond Marian Kello but not with enough conviction and his effort was cleared.
Twenty minutes later Jean-Claude Darcheville raced in on Kello's goal, rounded him and, like Miller before, didn't get enough purchase on his shot and again the danger was averted.
But there were many opportunities to break the deadlock at other times.
The stocky Grigalevicius flashed a shot beyond McGregor's far post midway through the first half.
Lee McCulloch had two chances in two minutes at the back post either side of a fine save by McGregor, who got down well to parry a left-foot shot from Ledesma.
Five minutes before the break a slack cross-field pass by Weir presented Ledesma with a 30-yard run at goal. But for the determination of Kevin Thomson to recover the situation, Kaunas would have registered a precious away goal.
The early second-half action was as open as the first-half exchanges.
A fabulous cross by Miller on the right wasn't pounced upon by Darcheville, McCulloch or Novo, then McGregor dived low to neutralise a shot by Grigalevicius.
McCulloch was roundly applauded for an audacious clipped shot from 25 yards which went narrowly wide, and again he tested Kello with a low drive minutes later.
Subs Boyd and Velicka each had a half-chance to send the fans home smiling, but neither could convert.
The Rangers support shuffled to the exits at the sound of the full-time whistle, while Kaunas took the applause of their fans.
Rangers have 90 minutes in Kaunas next week to save their reputation and their European campaign. And we're still in July.
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