RANGERS have finished this season’s Champions League campaign on six points after tonight’s 1-1 draw against Bursapor in the Ataturk Stadium.
A stunning first-half strike from Kenny Miller put Walter Smith’s men in dreamland in their final Group C game but Sercan Yidirim replied for the home side with just eleven minutes left to play.
Nevertheless, Rangers can again be proud of their efforts on a night when 18-year-old Darren Cole was handed his first-team debut.
The right-back, from Edinburgh, put in a composed display as did Kyle Hutton, 19, who was industrious alongside Lee McCulloch in the middle of the park.
Despite the stadium being far from capacity the atmosphere at kick-off was electric with Bursa’s passionate fans trying to lift their side for what was their last European game of the season.
With Rangers starting with a back five Ertugrul Saglam’s men immediately looked to push forward but a dangerous cross from Miller after three minutes had stand-in keeper Yuvaz Ozkan flapping with Steven Naismith lurking.
From there the Light Blues gained confidence and there was a spring in the players’ steps with a place in the last 32 of the Europa League already guaranteed.
All the pressure was on the home side following their disappointing European campaign and with 15 minutes on the clock there were sighs of frustration when striker Leonel Nunez turned in the box but blazed his effort over Allan McGregor’s bar.
This was to prove costly as Rangers then went on the attack and broke the deadlock with a brilliant goal from Miller, his first in this season’s Champions League.
Richard Foster played in Steven Whittaker down the left wing and his cross found Miller who curled the ball home from 15 yards with a terrific left foot shot.
It was a great moment for the prolific marksman who has found the net with ease in the SPL this season but had not scored the goals his work-rate deserved in this competition.
With the game now opening up Rangers now went in search of a second goal and when Cole’s deep cross from the right found Naismith at the back post his looping header clipped the roof of Ozkan’s net.
With half an hour played it was looking good for Scottish champions with the two Stevens – Naismith and Davis – in superb form and providing plenty of support for Miller who was as industrious as ever.
At half-time Allan McGregor had not had a shot to save which prompted Saglam to make the first tactical switch of the match with top scorer Pablo Batalla replacing centre back Serdar Aziz.
But Rangers again started the second-half positively and a glancing header from Miller flew out of play for a goal kick.
On 52 minutes the action stopped momentarily as Steven Naismith received treatment on his knee after Yildirim had accidentally stood on the Gers man as he tried to make a
Thankfully, Naisy quickly returned to the pitch as Batalla drilled a low shot a foot wide of target.
Bekin Ozan Has then tried his luck from 25 yards with a powerful volley which flew over McGregor’s bar.
On 62 minutes there were further changes in personnel with midfielder Turgay Bahadir replacing striker Nunez while James Beattie went on for goal hero Miller.
With the game not going to plan for the Turks a bit of frustration started to creep in to their play and Ozan Ipek picked up the first yellow card of the match for a poor challenge on Hutton.
And just a minute later French referee Tony Chapron had his notebook out again to take the name of Beattie after he was adjudged to have fouled Ozan Has although the decision was harsh.
As the second-half progressed the Green Crocodiles began to exert sustained pressure on the Gers defence for the first time and after Federico Insua had come inches away from leveling with a free-kick from 20 yards the home side deservedly found the net.
A cross came in from the left and when the Rangers defence failed to clear the ball the lively Yildirim was there to fire a low shot in to the corner of the net from six yards.
From there Bursaspor went in search of a winner and they should have got in when, with just five minutes left, Yildirim skipped in to the 18-yard box and with just McGregor to beat he sclaffed his effort in to the keeper’s hands when it looked easier to score.
In the end Rangers held on to secure a point and it was probably a fair result given Bursa’s improved second-half display.