The trams ground to a halt in Manchester yesterday. It's not so easy running them when the largest travelling support ever to follow a British club in Europe is spilling over the tracks in the afternoon sun.
It takes a lot to shift Barry Ferguson from his own tramlines. Walter Smith knew that when he returned to Rangers, assessed the player's clashes with Paul Le Guen and immediately restored to him the captaincy which Le Guen had taken away. Ferguson is about as far removed from the nouveau riches of Zenit, a team built on the gas riches of Gazprom, as Rangers, seven goals in eight ties on their European odyssey before this night, are from the word "adventurous".
Don't try telling the 100,000-plus Scots in Manchester that Rangers have existed in Europe this far by being pedestrian. Smith's philosophy – to prevail at all costs and use the proceeds of this run to perhaps invest in a squad which might be a more memorable force in Europe – is a valid one and Ferguson was its personification in a battle of the captains last night.
Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Ferguson's opposite number, was his shadow, seemingly available at every opportunity to deny him the chance to deliver the passes to Jean-Claude Darcheville which would have allowed Rangers to secure something on the counter-attack.
The Rangers midfield's struggle to maintain possession contributed to some stern words at half-time from Ally McCoist, who was looking for something better from the five of them. But when Rangers did break, there was no mistaking who was the fulcrum.
If Ferguson's crisp through-ball to Darcheville had not got stuck under the Frenchman's feet early on, he might have managed a better return to his captain. Rangers' most promising free-kick, on the right edge of the area, was tamed after Ferguson had snatched the ball from Igor Denisov – but Darcheville could not find the elevation in his kick. The night might also have taken a different course when a Darcheville shot was stopped with enough uncertainty to allow Ferguson a bite at the rebound.
A clear handball was denied in the resulting mêlée by a referee – Peter Fröjdfeldt – who was more willing to award one when Kolo Touré fatefully challenged Ryan Babel in the Champions League quarter-final at Anfield a month ago.
In the final reckoning there was to be no European glory for Ferguson to add to his four titles and three Scottish Cups.
A dyed-in-the-wool Rangers fan, Ferguson always insisted that a Scottish title win over Celtic was of more significance than a European run which had been unexpected to the very end. But as he sat, crestfallen, on a Manchester field last night the reality of defeat was proving rather more difficult to take.Reuse content