Rangers write-off earns 'big player' reappraisal from former Ibrox star who initially wondered 'what he was'

Judgements on John Lundstram proved swift and harsh as he could not muster any real rhythm across his early months with Rangers.

An all-action midfielder by reputation, when he signed on at Ibrox under freedom of contract last July the Liverpudlian pledged he would be a “box-to-box” player who would seek to provide goals and assists. Instead, as he toiled to adapt to the Scottish game, many struggled to know what box to place him in when assessing precisely what functions he was meant to be serving in the central area. Kevin Thomson was among those that were bemused. And for understandable reasons. Lundstram appeared a becalmed rather than energised presence last autumn, and dropped out a regular starting berth before the November arrival of Giovanni van Bronckhorst as a successor to Steven Gerrard, the man who recruited him. Only two goals and no assists were the product of his outings till that point.

A stunning piledriver in the 4-1 win away to Borussia Dortmund in February appeared to light a fire under Lundstram, who then proved adept in dropping into a back three for the return leg success that has underpinned the Ibrox side’s progress to the Europa League semi-final, which will see them back in Germany next week to face RB Leipzig. And on Sunday, Lundstram’s flourishing in Rangers colours seemed fully realised as the midfielder proved a snarling enforcer/destroyer type to help his club edge out bitter rivals Celtic courtesy of a 2-1 extra-time Scottish Cup semi-final victory. Playing on the edge, and generously allowed to do so by referee Bobby Madden, his hustling and harrying prevented Ange Postecoglou’s men achieving any sustained flow in their play. As a result, Thomson - three years with Rangers from 2007 in a period during which he bagged all the major domestic honours and an appearance in a 2008 UEFA Cup final - can now see the worth of the Englishman, who he believes has become integral to van Bronckhorst’s set-up.

“I questioned what he was when he first came to the club,” said the Kelty Hearts manager. “I knew all about him from watching him on the telly with Sheffield United. When he was there he was about getting in the box, scoring goals and being a driving force. He came here and it was a different job and he has even found himself in a back three at times, like he did against Dortmund. It shows you how adaptable he is – but also it tells you a lot about his character. It’s all about the team.

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“He has really found his niche in the market. He knows what he is good at now and his role in the team. I’m not saying he didn’t know his role before but he’s shown he can put his foot in, he can put out fires and he can get his foot on the ball. He’s a real protector for the back four. That’s vital at a club like Rangers because, especially in Scotland, you have a lot of the ball and are on the attack. But you can be vulnerable when it’s turned over and he does a brilliant job for the team. He’s become a really big player for Rangers.”

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GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - APRIL 17: John Lundstram celebrates at Full Time during a Scottish Cup Semi-Final between Celtic and Rangers at Hampden Park, on April 17, 2022, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
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