Rangers FC missed a great opportunity to take a commanding position in UEFA Champions League Group H, dominating against FC Artmedia in Bratislava but falling foul of their own poor finishing and defending. Nevertheless, a 2-2 draw leaves both sides firmly in contention to reach the knockout rounds.
Dado Pršo got the Glasgow team off to a perfect start with a header in the third minute, but Artmedia captain Balázs Borbély levelled within five minutes. Steven Thompson restored the Scottish champions' lead with another header in the dying moments of the first half, before Ján Kozák salvaged a point, firing the ball in after goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus had failed to clear his lines.
The sides came into this match after each securing a 3-2 win against FC Porto, a 1-0 defeat by FC Internazionale Milano and a 0-0 draw at Ibrox a fortnight ago. They remain inseparable, but Rangers showed superior class and ought to have put daylight between themselves and the Slovakian champions.
They at least avoided the fate of city rivals Celtic FC, beaten 5-0 in Bratislava in the second qualifying round. Artmedia were close to full strength, with Aleš Hellebrand their only major absentee, while forward trio Thomas Buffel, Nacho Novo and Federico Nieto were sidelined for Rangers. On Matchday 4 two seasons ago, Pršo scored four times for AS Monaco FC in a spectacular 8-3 win against RC Deportivo La Coruña. The giant Croatian immediately showed a similar appetite for goals, stealing in to finish from a couple of metres after Sotirios Kyrgiakos headed a Brahim Hemdani free-kick across goal.
Both clubs are defending national titles, and both are already in trouble. Artmedia are seven points behind FC Spartak Trnava, while Rangers lie ten adrift of Celtic and Heart of Midlothian FC. Their defensive uncertainty was evident in a frantic opening period. Five minutes after Artmedia had allowed Pršo to nod in unmarked, Rangers responded by leaving Borbély completely free to hook the ball in after an unseemly goalmouth scramble.
Marauding full-back Aleš Urbánek went close for Artmedia, bringing a smart save from Waterreus after cutting in from the left and shooting from the corner of the area. Thompson then responded for Rangers, receiving the ball with his back to goal, turning and curling a 25-metre effort just wide. A minute before the break Rangers were back in front - the conscientious Pršo dug a cross out from the right, and Thompson rose to send a thumping header past Juraj Čobej.
Seven minutes into the second half, Julien Rodriguez surrendered possession to Lukáš Hartig inside the Rangers box. The Czech forward drew Waterreus and pulled the ball back for Branislav Fodrek, whose finish failed to match the fizz of the play which preceded it. Branislav Obžera looked to have levelled three minutes later when he shot from a corner that was played short on the Artmedia left, only for left-back Olivier Bernard to clear off the line with Waterreus beaten.
Having been caught out for Artmedia's first, Rangers were equally guilty of gift-wrapping the hosts their second equaliser. Rodriguez, Hemdani and Waterreus all played a part in failing to deal with a through-ball, the goalkeeper's clearance sliced straight to Kozák who volleyed in from 20 metres. There was still time for Peter Løvenkrands to miss a wonderful chance to win it, heading wide when unchallenged five metres from goal, but it was not to be Rangers' night.