Rangers FC kept the clean sheet they desperately wanted going into next week's UEFA Cup quarter-final second leg against Sporting Clube de Portugal, but they may live to regret a number of missed opportunities as they dominated on the night without scoring.
If the Scottish league leaders' success during this European campaign has been built on a combination of no-frills defending and efficient counterattacking, then only one ingredient was missing in Glasgow – the clinical finish. Lee McCulloch and Steven Davis might both have scored against visitors who were themselves unable to make a period of late possession count.
Already missing strikers Derlei and Rodrigo Tiuí through injury, Sporting's personnel problems seemed set to worsen after just two minutes when Liedson was carried to the sidelines on a stretcher following an innocuous clash with Rangers defender David Weir. However, to the relief of coach Paulo Bento, the Brazilian overcame the knock and was soon back into the thick of the action. There was another early scare for the Portuguese team when Carlos Cuéllar's long clearance upfield was seized upon 30 metres from goal by forward Lee McCulloch who, with the game's first chance, shot just wide on the volley.
The hosts continued to enjoy the best of the possession and, with 18 minutes played, carved out a second opening. On this occasion it was Jean-Claude Darcheville's bustling run down the right flank that created the opportunity. The striker burst past Sporting left-back Leandro Grimi to reach the byline and slide an enticing ball towards Davis, arriving at the near post, only for Anderson Polga to clear the danger. Then, two minutes from the interval, Sporting had goalkeeper Rui Patrício to thank for denying another venomous long-range drive from McCulloch with a stunning save low to his right.
It appeared only a matter of time before Rangers would take the lead as the decibel levels within Ibrox rose in appreciation of the home side's supremacy. On 52 minutes, captain Barry Ferguson unlocked the visiting defence with a curled pass into the path of Davis, but the on-loan midfielder fired his shot a half-metre over the crossbar. With every second that passed without conceding, however, Sporting grew in confidence as they shed their nerves and began to move the ball with greater purpose.
Grimi became the first player in green and white to test Rangers No1 Allan McGregor, breaking from deep on the left before releasing a stinging strike which forced the keeper to parry the ball wide. Almost immediately McGregor came to Walter Smith's men rescue again, saving from Simon Vukčević after the forward had surged inside from the right to drill a low effort from the edge of the area. Sporting failed to make their territorial advantage tell late on, though, and with no away goal shipped, Rangers have a slight edge in the battle for a place in the semi-finals.