DURING the funeral march out of Ibrox there would have been one thought shared among the majority of sombre Rangers supporters: what a desperately ordinary lot Maribor were. It begged an obvious question: what did that say about their own beaten and broken team?
Scottish football entered its nuclear winter when the final whistles went in Govan, Sion and London last night. For the first time in history every Scottish representative (there were four of them this season) has been skittled out of Europe before the end of August.
It can hardly be called an embarrassment these days -- humiliations come so regularly everyone has become numb to them -- but Rangers have rarely felt lower than this. They made a pretty poor attempt at saving this tie, starting well but deteriorating into a tailspin.
They let Maribor score with the only chance they created, then managed only one themselves from a night of too many long balls and generally laboured, lumpen pressure.
Maribor could have spared themselves that £870 fee for lodging a protest that Rangers should be thrown out for fielding Carlos Bocanegra as an ineligible player in the first leg. It turns out they didn’t need Uefa’s help at all.
Time will tell what all of this means for Ally McCoist but the statistics look grim this morning: just three wins from eight this season and back-to-back eliminations against European small fry; Malmo and Maribor. He would have felt a chill the moment Dalibor Volas sliced his defence open to score the game’s first goal.
Bocanegra equalised, but by then Rangers’ attacks were riddled with nerves. They made chance after chance but nearly all of them were scruffy and unconvincing. The longer they played, the more composure and quality fell away from their game.
Jasmin Handanovic, the Maribor goalkeeper, simply wasn’t worked hard enough. He hardly had a noteworthy save to make all night, even when Rangers predictably threw everything but the kitchen sink at them in the closing half an hour. Maribor needed only to get all their men behind the ball. Rangers’ poor passing, control and decision-making accelerated them towards their elimination.
Maribor were a poor lot. Their defending was often scrambled and for the vast majority of the match they didn’t have much of a clue about how to do anything constructive. The single exception was their tie’s mortal blow: Dorin Goian and Bocenegra let Maribor carve them open after 55 minutes and suddenly everything changed.
Ales Maertelj slipped a through ball to Volas and here it was again, Rangers exposed and a visiting foreign team about to knock them on their backsides. It was a certainty that Volas would bury a low finish into the net. He did.
Rangers missed the suspended Steven Naismith but at first it looked like they still had the players to worry Maribor. Kyle Lafferty was lively and eager to be involved. Jelavic got on the end of several of the crosses from Gregg Wylde, whose pace and energy on the left was a great early outlet for Rangers before he faded.
Juanma Ortiz offered less over on the left, and playing balls over the top for the front two or Wylde meant that neither Steven Davis nor Maurice Edu made much of an impression.
At first Rangers didn’t look hurried or anxious about having to turn around the 2-1 deficit from the first leg. They claimed for a penalty when Ortiz hit the deck after seven minutes when Handanovic had been buzzed by Lafferty from a Wylde cross. Ortiz either slipped or dived, but he hadn’t been tripped.
Jelavic put a header over. Edu put another one tamely into Handanovic’s hands. Lafferty motored through a busy penalty area but couldn’t dig out a shot. Slowly the number of openings mounted up but they all came to nothing: a Lafferty shot curled wide, a Goian drive went past the post, Jelavic failed to score with another header. Lafferty stabbed a low shot into Handanovic’s legs after Jelavic played him in. The clock ticked on.
When Lee Wallace went down with an injury, Rangers had to alter their defence and move Bocanegra -- making his home debut -- from centre-half to left-back. Ross Perry moved into the middle with Goian. Maribor’s goal subsequently came from attacking the left side of the Rangers’ back four, but the reshuffle shouldn’t have mattered.
The move for the goal should still have been dealt with far, far more effectively. The opener aside, they barely laid a finger on Rangers. Agin Ibraimi squirted an early shot over the crossbar. That was all they offered.
Rangers had two great chances to save themselves. Davis worked his way into a terrific position after a one-two with Kirk Broadfoot. The goal beckoned, but Davis played a square ball. It was inexplicable, and it was the moment when the crowd’s mood turned. They couldn’t believe what they were watching.
Substitute David Healy then fluffed his lines 12 minutes from time, delivering a terrible finish when he was through on the goalkeeper. It summed up Rangers’ night: they had a straightforward job to do and messed it up.