Marius Onofraş struck an explosive equaliser with two minutes remaining to keep FC Unirea Urziceni firmly in contention to progress from UEFA Champions League Group G and frustrate a Rangers FC side who believed they had just breathed new life into their campaign.
Lee McCulloch, who put through his own net as the Romanian champions won 4-1 in Glasgow two weeks ago, scored at the right end this time with an emphatic drive in the 79th minute. It pointed Rangers towards their first victory in the section but Onofraş, an early substitute, had other ideas to keep Unirea three points clear of fourth-placed Rangers, and two in front of VfB Stuttgart in third.
There was a cagey feel to the initial exchanges, befitting the importance of the game to both teams. While Kenny Miller was operating as a lone front man for the visitors, Steven Davis and Steven Naismith in particular were quick to push on from midfield and lend support. Unirea funnelled back in numbers to plug any gaps while the inventive touches of Serban Dacian Varga offered them possibilities going forward.
Worryingly for Rangers, Unirea were able to find their central striker Marius Ioan Bilasco seemingly at will, although 17-year-old defender Danny Wilson was creating a solid impression on only his second competitive appearance. An early shooting chance emerged for Tiberiu Bălan but he snatched at the attempt. Rangers probed away and soon manufactured openings themselves. From Kevin Thomson's free-kick, Giedrius Arlauskis was grateful to scramble the ball away. The goalkeeper then stretched to gather a Naismith header.
As at Ibrox, Unirea coach Dan Petrescu opted to introduce Onofraş at an early juncture with Bălan making way. The switch appeared to inspire his side and Onofraş himself gave Allan McGregor palpitations with an ambitious effort from 40 metres that landed on the roof of the net. McGregor had already been relieved to push a Vasile Maftei free-kick around the post and then responded well when Sorin Frunză's drive deflected off a defender. At the other end, Miller shimmied his way past two defenders yet could not squeeze his shot beyond Arlauskis. Moments before half-time Kyle Lafferty was only narrowly wide of the far post with a curling strike.
There was no quick second-half goal to warm supporters who had been soaked through by the incessant rain. In the 62nd minute Rangers worked the best opening of the night so far with Davis slipping Miller into a great position to give his team the lead. However, the Scottish international prodded the ball too close to Arlauskis and with the attempt lacking sufficient power, the keeper was able to make the save.
The reprieve lifted Unirea and with Varga eager to get on the ball and display his tricks, the home crowd willed their favourites to punish Rangers. However, the deadlock was broken by the Glaswegians when McCulloch, receiving a short pass from Lafferty, let fly with a shot that bounced in front of Arlauskis and skidded in. There was little time for Unirea to respond but Onofraş came to their rescue after the hard-working Bilasco had set him up.