Football: Lukic throws new light on the Ibrox punchline: Joe Lovejoy finds Rangers hung over after their failure to take a two-goal lead to Elland Road in two weeks' time

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The Independent Online
JOHN LUKIC was dazzled by the Ibrox floodlights, but Walter Smith had his eyes wide open, and the Rangers manager offered the more illuminating view of the Battle of Britain, part one.

It was not so much what he said. The look on his face told a fuller story - a picture of frustration worth more than a thousand 'if onlys'. His team needed another goal. The Scottish champions deserved to beat Leeds United 2-1 on Wednesday night, but the celebrations left them with a morning-after feeling which had nothing to do with the dreaded dram.

The cold light of day brought the realisation that Leeds were still favourites to win through to the last eight of the European Cup. 'We could, and should have scored more,' Smith intoned, with a rueful shake of the head.

Having failed to do so, Rangers need a performance of heroic proportions if they are to progress beyond the second leg, at Elland Road on 4 November.

Ally McCoist admitted as much. The Scotland striker's 25th goal of the season has given them a gambler's chance, but he said: 'It is going to be very, very tough now. Leeds have such a good home record.'

England's champions would have one foot in the third round already without the goalkeeping gaffes which were behind both Rangers goals. Howard Wilkinson knew it, but was in stoical, rough- with-smooth form. He thought Lukic would 'not be too pleased with himself', but was not about to make a crisis out of the drama.

'We are big boys,' he said, 'and big boys don't cry.'

Lukic, certainly, was in no mood for blubbing. Nor was he prepared to shoulder the blame. 'I know my job, and I don't need people to tell me my job,' was the deterrent response to questions about his performance. It was important to be 'rational' about these things, and the 'rational' explanation for the punch which ended up in the back of his own net was that he had been blinded by the powerful floodlights which Rangers reckon to be the best in Europe.

Rational? Andy Goram is obviously an even better goalkeeper than we thought, keeping all those clean sheets without the benefit of goggles.

If there was a strong element of good fortune about the goal which sparked them, Rangers' reaction to it was electrifying. For the first 20 minutes they had been second best, stunned by Gary McAllister's second-minute piledriver, and outmanoeuvred by Leeds's strong midfield. For the next 25 minutes they were the only team in it.

Driven forward relentlessly by the energetic excellence of Ian Durrant, their concerted pressure produced a second goal, when McCoist profited from Lukic's careless hands, and might easily have brought a couple more.

Instead, Leeds weathered the storm, regained their composure and went on to share the honours in the second half, showing a resilience and strength of character which will serve them well if they succeed in turning the tie around, to qualify for the tournament's mini-league stage.

To do so they probably need to change tack in the return. Unlike Stuttgart, who crumbled under a barrage of high balls, Rangers are well equipped for aerial combat, with Richard Gough a match for Lee Chapman at the far post.

The flanks offer the likelier route to success, Gough and his resolute assistants having more to fear from Rod Wallace's darting pace than Chapman's plodding predictability. Denied admittance by the front door, Leeds need to nip in round the back.

Undermined by the lack of a natural right-back, their own defence has leaked goals in all but two of their 17 games this season, and Chris Fairclough's switch from centre-half to the right appears to be a case of creating two weaknesses in trying to remedy one. Fairclough is no full-back, and Chris Whyte is less effective without him in close proximity in the middle.

Rangers are fully capable of scoring at Elland Road, and Smith is confident that they will. 'We will attack them there in the same way that they had a go at us here,' he said. 'I think we showed on Wednesday that we are good enough to do that, and I can see both sides scoring goals again.'

Another 2-1 home win would be no surprise, and this one, like the Stuttgart saga, could run and run. The difference - especially after the Ibrox cracker - is that no one would mind.

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