It doesn’t make any sense that Rangers have lost twice as many Premiership games in the past five weeks as in their eight-month, 16-match European campaign, which has produced a single-season record ten wins, and only a solitary reverse.
Last night’s Scottish Cup defeat by Hearts simply reinforced the sense of Rangers’ baffling split personality.
“It is a difficult one because I know these players, when they are really in the zone and they are focused and respect the challenge in front of them, they are a match for anyone they come up against,” said Gerrard, speaking before the match at Tynecastle. “So at times it has been frustrating and despairing, if you like, when you analyse some of the results we have had. But look, it is what it is. Thinking about it and over-analysing it for too long is not going to help. It’s important you look forward.
“But I think what Wednesday night shows is that when everyone is tuned in and everyone follows a game plan and really sacrifices themselves for the team and parks their ego, we are a formidable team. That is probably the best performance we have had as a group. It makes you feel really proud of the side. When we can get that consistently I believe we will become a successful team.”
And therein lies the rub. Rangers have exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations by setting up a last-16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen. The most pessimistic of their supporters, though, would not have believed six weeks ago that they could be 12 points behind Celtic going into the final two months of the league season and out of the Scottish Cup. Yet, for all that they had an excellent end-of-the-year run that culminated in their victory at Celtic Park, they haven’t been able to hold a candle to the champions for consistency. Their longest league winning run is five games. Celtic have had three longer winning sequences – the best an 11-game run.
Braga matchwinner Ryan Kent’s suggestion that the split personality of Rangers this season is owed to their underdog status in continental competition, which allows them to play with “less tension and less expectation”, was, however unwittingly, hardly a ringing endorsement.
“I don’t think talent’s enough,” added Gerrard. “They wouldn’t be asked to join us or come on the journey with us if they weren’t talented players. That’s one of the main ingredients you need, but to be successful and win when the competition is so challenging out there, you need players who have the right mentality, focus, standards and professionalism to go around the talent.”