Rangers defeat epitomises positives and frustrations of Europa League group

If you were to offer a Rangers fan this at the beginning of the season they would have bitten your hand off: final ten minutes of the last Europa League group game with only one goal separating their team from a place in the knockout stages. Heck, even when the draw was made they'd have taken that. As the team in Pot 4 they were favourites to finish well outside the top two.

There have been plenty of positives to take out of this European campaign as a whole and it is the main reason why, despite failing to win in seven of their 16 Ladbrokes Premiership games to this point, plus being knocked out by rivals Aberdeen in the semi-final of the Betfred Cup, the overwhelming majority of fans still believe Steven 
Gerrard is the right man to take the club forward.

Even in this disappointing defeat there were reasons for optimism. Expected to remain resolute, attempt to keep the game close and nick it late on, instead the away side took the game to their opponents from the start and controlled a lot of the territory and possession. The winning goal was a sore one to take, but it came when Rangers were committing men forward as they needed that elusive goal to stand any chance of progressing.

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Yet there is still a feeling of what could, and probably should, have been.

Alfredo Morelos is squeezed out by two opponents last night. Picture: AFP/Getty

Rangers were the better side in their opening match with Spartak Moscow but took only one point. They then had a calamitous defensive performance in the away match, which they lost 4-3. Though the Russians are viewed as the sort of heavyweights that Rangers, fresh from successive third-place finishes in Scottish football, shouldn’t be able to compete with, there’s little doubt they let at least three points slip from their grasp there.

Now the attention switches to domestic football and their ambition to push Celtic in the title race. There’s little doubt the Europa League has been a hindrance on that front, as the squad have not adjusted well to the rotation required for fresh legs, but a lot of that falls on the summer recruitment, for many of whom the jury is still out. It’s time for those fringe players, and the leaders in the squad, to put together a run to ensure they are still on the coat-tails of Celtic, at least before they can recruit further in January.