A familiar tale of missed opportunity
Deep down, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and his players knew their prospects of overhauling Celtic in the title race had effectively evaporated long before they travelled across Glasgow on Sunday for the final Old Firm showdown of the campaign.
The Dutchman has to accept responsibility for the now all but inevitable outcome of Celtic being crowned Scottish champions this month. He inherited a four-point lead at the top of the table when he replaced Steven Gerrard as manager last November, stretched it to six points before the winter break but has since overseen the inconsistency which accommodated a relentless surge from Celtic to gain the six-point advantage they now hold with just three rounds of fixtures remaining.
Rangers performed well at Celtic Park in another compelling clash of the great rivals and looked the likelier side to win the game in the second half after Fashion Sakala had cancelled out Jota’s first half opener for the hosts.
But just as they have done previously under van Bronckhorst in the league since the turn of the year, when dropping crucial points in draws against Ross County, Dundee United and Motherwell, the Ibrox side could not take the chances which came their way to secure a victory they would have merited on the balance of play.
All eyes turn to Thursday night
Salvation and a whole lot more is within Rangers’ grasp when they return to action at Ibrox on Thursday.
If losing their status as domestic top dogs won’t be easily shrugged aside by their supporters, it will dramatically diminish in significance if van Bronckhorst’s squad can overturn a 1-0 deficit against RB Leipzig in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final.
The potential is there for an epic and truly momentous night in Govan as van Bronckhorst attempts to emulate the legendary trio of Rangers managers – Scot Symon, Willie Waddell and Walter Smith – in leading the club into a European final.
If van Bronckhorst bears culpability for the frittering away of a healthy lead in the title race, Rangers’ performances in Europe since he took charge have left him with plenty of credit in the bank.
He has shown admirable tactical nous and adaptability in the knockout phase of a Europa League campaign in which Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade and Braga have all been overcome. If van Bronckhorst can find a way to add Leipzig to that list, whether over 90 minutes, 120 minutes or a penalty shoot-out, his approval ratings with the Rangers fans will soar.
Roofe to return?
The Ibrox support will anxiously await news on the fitness of Kemar Roofe who has been sidelined since suffering a knee injury in the Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Celtic at Hampden a fortnight ago.
On the back of the season-ending thigh injury sustained by top scorer Alfredo Morelos, it has left van Bronckhorst having to make do and mend when selecting the forward area of his team.
Without another recognised central striker, Joe Aribo was deployed in a ‘false nine’ role for parts of the games away to Leipzig and Celtic. On Sunday, Fashion Sakala provided a lively and increasingly prominent presence in the attacking third of the pitch and took his goal well.
But if Rangers are to possess the focal point up front they will need against Leipzig, then the return of Roofe could make all the difference in their quest to book a place in the Europa League final in Seville on May 18.