Rangers' hopes of progressing to the last 16 of the Uefa Cup were dented last night after they were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Panathinaikos at Ibrox.
Even the late introduction of Daniel Cousin failed to break down the stubborn resistance of the Greek defence. Rangers now face a daunting trip to Athens for the second leg next week knowing they will probably have to score to keep their European hopes alive.
Walter Smith persisted with the 4-5-1 formation which he had favoured in Champions League matches against Stuttgart, Barcelona and Lyons but, this time, Lee McCulloch was given the nod in the lone striker role. The biggest cheer when the teams were read out was reserved for the home fans' favourite, Nacho Novo, who earned his first start since early November.
The Spaniard was clearly up for the challenge, pouncing on McCulloch's header within a few minutes of kick-off only to send a left-footed drive straight at goalkeeper Mario Galinovic.
A blunder from Giannis Goumas almost gifted Rangers the opener when he tried to knock Barry Ferguson's header back to the goalkeeper. The pass was poor and he also failed to hold off Novo, who could have claimed his seventh goal of the season had it not been for a frantic clearance.
Novo then collected a long ball from Brahim Hemdani and powered his way into the box only to fire off the legs of the goalkeeper.
The home fans screamed for a penalty after the break when Novo fell after a push from Loukas Vyntra but their pleas were ignored by the Italian referee.
The Ibrox crowd were growing restless and, with 20 minutes to go, Cousin was thrown into the action in place of Charlie Adam. To no avail: Rangers will have to try their luck in Athens
Rangers (4-5-1): McGregor; Broadfoot, Cuellar, Weir, Papac; McCulloch, Ferguson, Davis, Hemdani, Novo (Burke, 81); Adam (Cousin, 67). Substitutes not used: Alexander, Boyd, Burke, Dailly, Naismith, Faye.
Panathinaikos (4-4-2): Galinovic; Nilsson, Morris, Goumas, Vyntra; Ndoye, Tziolis, Mattos, Simao; Karagounis, Salpigidis (Postiga, 66). Substitutes not used: Malarz, Ninis, Gonzalez, Papadopoulos, Seric, Ivanschitz.
Referee: N Rizzoli (Italy).Reuse content