Breathing into life and breaking the rules.
After hitherto painstaking Europa League displays, Rangers brushed past Brondby in a performance which promises a solid return to the kind of consistency Steven Gerrard craves.
The Light Blues unshackled the lethargy and nerves that saw them lose to both Lyon and Sparta Prague, issuing glimpses into the possibilities for the remainder of the season.
Rangers’ vibrancy at an electric Ibrox also provided a keen distraction for some fans perhaps still preoccupied with the notion of Gerrard swapping Clydeside for Tyneside. The Gers chief has been heavily linked with Newcastle United now the Magpies have cut the ultimate, dizzying deal with Saudi owners.
Common consensus has it that Newcastle will appoint the manager of their real intent at the end of the campaign, and given that they are struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table, it’s not exactly a move of upward mobility for someone of Gerrard’s still fledgling status. Is the Liverpool icon really a stalking horse candidate on the fringe of a turbulent, if now exciting and unpredictable, environment?
Of course, in football you never know what is around the corner, but Gerrard laughed off the links when inevitably quizzed post-Brondby.
Rangers added to the feel-good factor coursing through the Old Firm clubs with what was a vital win over the Danes, a couple of days after Celtic secured an impressive 2-0 win over Ferencvaros, also in the Europa League. It’s very good news for both sets of fans who can still eagerly anticipate exciting and meaningful European football this autumn.
From Rangers’ point of view, the pressure to deliver was immense — increasingly so, considering the expectations which have built up around them over their Europa League showings since Gerrard arrived. For a team that is top of the Premiership it does seem incongruous to accuse them of lacking staying power at times, but last weekend’s draw against Hearts was a notable case in point. Dominant, but unable to see it out before losing a late goal.
Good, humble sides learn from mistakes, though — and there was never any danger of the same fate occurring against Brondby. A number of positives can be taken, such as the leadership qualities and goal scored by Leon Balogun, but, in particular, Rangers’ key strength lay in midfield to front. Supporters observed a lovely balance between John Lundstram, Steven Davis, Ianis Hagi and Joe Aribo, the latter described intriguingly as a ‘rulebreaker’ by Gerrard.
It’s an interesting description for the rangy performer. Unsettling Aribo, the throwback; a playmaker on the edge who seems untouched by nerves. The 25-year-old’s willingness to take adversaries on, flavoured by the odd splash of unorthodox movement, is a difficult challenge for any opposition side. Hagi’s capability of picking locks with his passing and both Davis and Lundstram’s desire to dictate and mop up all makes for an overall unit.
It may be true that Alfredo Morelos is stuttering at present but the Rangers boss has previously issued the kind of tough love to coax the 99-goal hitman back to form. And with both Ryan Kent and Ryan Jack close to a return, the news coming out of Ibrox is certainly encouraging in terms of retaining the Premiership. But, as always, plenty of hard yards lie ahead.
Today, Rangers make the mini hop to Paisley and in-form St Mirren.
The Buddies, in seventh spot, have won their last three games. Manager Jim Goodwin helped plot a rare 2020-21 setback for Rangers when his men knocked them out of the League Cup. And Jamie McGrath — who netted twice on that memorable night — can cause problems. The ex-Dundalk winger made his full debut for the Republic of Ireland this summer, and is expected to move in the January transfer window.
These clashes offer potential for upset and an inspired Goodwin will clearly point to that Cup triumph — but, realistically, it’s a big task for Saints to take anything today.