Rangers know that if they can maintain an encouraging summer trend tomorrow evening, they will progress to the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Five matches – both competitive and friendly – have been played by the Ibrox side under new manager Steven Gerrard over the past month, and they have all passed without the concession of a goal.
A sixth consecutive clean sheet against Osijek in Glasgow will be enough to eliminate the Croatian side following a 1-0 first-leg victory in the Balkans last Thursday.
This new-found resolve has been particularly welcome at Ibrox in light of the defensive troubles that have undermined the team in recent seasons. Gerrard expressed delight on Sunday with the defensive shape and organisation of his side and described the triangle of goalkeeper Allan McGregor and centre-backs Nikola Katic and Connor Goldson as “perfect so far”.
Jak Alnwick, the back-up goalkeeper, has been impressed with the way things have been shored up by the new manager, and the 25-year-old Englishman got a rare chance to be part of it himself when he played the first half of Sunday’s 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic as McGregor was given the day off.
“We look more solid,” said Alnwick. “We’ve signed a few defenders and we look solid. We’re trying to press from the front and you can see everyone is working. Last year we weren’t quite there and so it didn’t quite click but it looks like everyone is working for the team to keep that clean sheet. If we work as hard as we are, we’re going to score goals at the other end too. As long as we keep the clean sheets coming, we’ll also score goals.”
The return of Scotland goalkeeper McGregor to Ibrox has helped add extra assurance to the back end of the Rangers team, although it has done little to enhance Alnwick’s chances of playing regularly after 18 months as back-up to Wes Foderingham.
There has been some suggestion that Foderingham, the Rangers No 1 for the past three seasons, will depart after falling behind McGregor, pictured, in the pecking order, but, as things stand, Gerrard currently has three relatively reputable goalkeepers at his disposal. Alnwick, the former Port Vale goalkeeper, is unfazed by the increased competition.
“It’s brilliant, all three goalkeepers are different,” said Alnwick. “Allan has done brilliantly since he has come back to the club and his experience is vital. There’s competition with Wes and me here too. We’re all good friends and it’s healthy competition. We’re all working for the benefit of Rangers and whoever has the shirt on, we want them to do well for this club.
“You’ve got to thrive under the challenge. There are setbacks in football, positives as well as negatives, and it’s down to you to deal with it all. Allan coming in has helped the club and we all want to help the club. I’m going to be pushng him as hard as I can and hopefully it makes him better, and we’ll see where it takes us at the end of the season.”
Alnwick explained how the presence of McGregor, who made more than 200 appearances for Rangers before leaving for Turkish side Beşiktaş six years is ago, is having a positive effect on the whole team.
“Allan did brilliantly for the club in the past so I knew what he was all about,” said Alnwick. “For him to play at the level he’s played and over such a length of time underlines the fact he’s a top goalkeeper.
“He’s experienced and controls the game very well. He always looks very clam and relaxed. I’m only young so I can learn from him as well as push him.
“You look at what he has achieved at this club and everyone of us in that dressing-room also wants to achieve that. A lot of people look up to him to try and win trophies and push on this season.”