Alex Rae calls on Rangers to exorcise ghosts of Progres Niederkorn

Jordan Rossiter, right, and Kenny Miller cut dejected figures during Rangers' defeat by Progres in 2017. Picture: SNS
Jordan Rossiter, right, and Kenny Miller cut dejected figures during Rangers' defeat by Progres in 2017. Picture: SNS
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Given the words of Andy Halliday in the wake of Thursday night’s procession against St Joseph’s, it is clear that the upcoming Europa League qualifier against Progres Niederkorn is viewed as something of a ghostbusting mission.

While some will view it as an unwelcome picking at scabs that have barely begun to heal, others in the Rangers playing squad and among the support are relishing the opportunity to exorcise some demons.

Two years ago the club’s return to European competition for the first time since 2012 ended in ignominy; the humiliation of the result at the Stade Josy Barthel, where their narrow 1-0 first leg lead was overhauled by their hosts, was only matched by the farcical sight of then manager Pedro Caixinha standing in a bush, finger-wagging at fans, attempting to placate the furious travelling support as club staff tried to haul him back on to the right path.

But there was no explaining away a result considered one of the most disgraceful in the club’s history.

Described by pundits as “lamentable” and “embarrassing”, it was a scoreline former Rangers midfielder Alex Rae said would make them a “laughing stock”.

But he does not believe that the same misery will befall the club this time around and is welcoming the chance the latest meeting gives his club to right some wrongs.

The unlikely victory for the Luxembourg minnows, who were only fourth best in a league barely acknowledged outwith its own borders, certainly provoked shock and mirth, with celebrity tweeters such as Gary Linekar and Danny Baker weighing in on social media, unable to resist a pot shot or two.

And while only a handful of the players who featured that night remain at the club – Daniel Candeias, Wes Foderingham, Ryan Jack, Alfredo Morelos and James Tavernier – and Halliday returned after watching the horror show unfold from afar, on loan in Baku at that time, the misery of it will be relayed to the newcomers in a bid to ensure there is no repeat when they head back to Luxembourg for Thursday night’s leg of the latest qualifying head to head.

Rae understands that but considers it unnecessary. “After the last game I said it was the worst result in the club’s history because the difference between the teams should have been day and night. I know there were new signings but I don’t buy into the idea that they needed time to get into their stride. You don’t get that kind of luxury at a club like Rangers and you shouldn’t need to make those kind of excuses against a team like Progres Niderkorn, with all due respect.

“But this Rangers side is different and I seriously believe this squad is far better than even this time last season, and that team was definitely better than the one that lost so shamefully in Luxembourg.”

Much of that comes down to an altered psyche, thanks to the man at the helm these days.

Under Steven Gerrard, there is cause for Rangers’ optimism. Under his guidance, last season’s European performances showed significant improvement as the team progressed beyond the tricky and potentially cringeworthy qualifying rounds to the more prestigious group stages.

They confidently strode through four rounds to earn their place in a group comprised of Rapid Vienna, Spartak Moscow and Villarreal.

“The thing I like about this man is that he sets his own standards. Even in games where his team have been comfortable, Steven Gerrard doesn’t just settle. If he feels the standards have dropped, if they have been 2-0 up and cruising, he will still tell them if he thinks there should have been more intensity or if they needed to be sharper. He is always making demands of them and that’s how it should be at Rangers.

“He also doesn’t try to pull the wool over the supporters’ eyes. He is honest in the way he sums up games and he gets what is expected at a club like Rangers. With the greatest respect to Pedro [Caixinha] and Mark [Warburton], he knows what it is like to play and represent a club at this level and he knows it is all about winning.

“I don’t think Pedro or Mark grasped the magnitude of it but Steven Gerrard has that winning mentality in abundance. He knows what it is like to play in big FA Cup games, in Champions League finals. He knows what it takes to win.”

Unlike 2017, the first leg of the latest Niederkorn contest will be away from home, always preferable in Europe. Rae says Rangers should render that an irrelevance this time around as they seek to impose themselves on the minnows both home and away. “You don’t want to be too complacent because the job still needs to be done but I will be more concerned about home advantage in the third round qualifiers because they are going to be more tricky. If Rangers go about the business the right way, that shouldn’t be the case against Progres Niederkorn. It shouldn’t have been last time, when the calibre of the Rangers squad meant they should have come through that comfortably, but I definitely don’t believe it will be this time as the gulf between the teams is even bigger.”

Another flurry of summer signings means that Gerrard has enlisted almost another full side, granting him strength in depth and improving options on the bench – adding in game changers, where last season there were inexperienced kids, should further enhance their threat domestically and in Europe, according to Rae.

“The good thing is that most of them know the environment. We have players coming from other Scottish teams who know what to expect, guys from down south who know about Rangers and the manager and the likes of Sheyi Ojo knows Gerrard from Liverpool.

“The only one who will have to adapt quickly is Filip Herlander. I don’t care how old or young, how experienced or where guys have played, nothing adequately prepares you for the intensity of the demands at a club like Rangers.

“I had played 600 top level games before going to Rangers and I was still like ‘woah’. Because it is in your face, right. The demands are high. That’s what it means to play for a club like Rangers and it seems to be the way it is when you play for a man like Gerrard.

“I don’t think another performance like the one two years ago would be acceptable to either.”