However grim the present situation may appear for Rangers, it isn’t a permanent state of affairs, a thought both comforting and terrifying for a despairing Ibrox support.
Their mood has to swing towards the latter with Europa League last 16 ties against a tournament favourite Bayer Leverkusen either side of a derby date at home to Celtic next Sunday. Before all of which, Steven Gerrard’s men hit the Highlands for a tricky league encounter against Ross County this afternoon.
Not that there is anything but tricky domestic encounters for a team that has lost four and drawn two of their previous 11 in a spectacular second half of the season collapse.
If Rangers were to beat Ross County, Leverkusen and Celtic in the next week, it would buy them real breathing space as they seek rehabilitation. If they lost all three, the footballing equivalent of asphyxiation would ensue. The hope to which the Ibrox faithful cling is that European football is where they have been able to inhale satisfyingly as they have been left gasping for air during local hostilities.
Numerous theories have been forwarded as to why Gerrard’s men could beat Braga home and away, the latter with an immaculate display the manager declared the most complete of his tenure, then follow that up with horrendous losses to Hearts away in the Scottish Cup and Hamilton Accies at home in the league.
Ryan Jack doesn’t seem to buy into any of them. Certainly not team-mate Ryan Kent’s assertion that Rangers thrive in continental competition because they are under less pressure, or first-team coach Michael Beale’s suggestion they prosper in Europe because of the different approach opponents in that arena take against them.
“When you play at a club like Rangers there is always pressure,” the midfielder said. “Every time you go on the park there is an expectation and demand. There is pressure in every game and we have to live with it. It’s what we are paid to do. And I don’t mind what way teams play against us, to be honest. All teams have different styles, formations and personnel.
“When you are in a Rangers shirt, it’s about what we do and how we play. If we stick to our levels and our performances, then we will win most games. At the minute we have dropped below that and it’s important we get back to it.”
They have dropped off a cliff in the most inexplicable fashion. There is no other way to process their ability to raise their level away to the in-form team in Portugal and then sink dramatically when pitted against two teams, Hearts and Hamilton, that were at the time of defeating Gerrard’s side at the bottom of the Premiership.
“You sometimes overthink things and after games, you are sitting wondering why that’s happened or whatever. We just have to stick together and we have to work hard. I’m sure it will change. It’s frustrating to go from the Braga win to losing domestically. The European success shows that when the mindset is right and when everyone buys into the gameplan and is on the same page, that’s what we can produce.
“We can give that type of performance against Braga but then in the next two games, we just switch off and make errors. We were nervous and I don’t know why, but we just have to work hard and I’m sure it will change.”
It has to change immediately and, with the calibre of Leverkusen, Rangers require to find a step up beyond what has allowed them to post a record 10 wins in Europe across 16 games wherein they have suffered only one defeat. With Celtic in between the home first leg on Thursday and the return, both in terms of scheduling and form, the timing of a sure-to-be draining examination against a team pushing towards the top of the Bundelsiga hardly seems ideal.
“Timing doesn’t matter with this tie, to be honest,” Jack said. “We have got ourselves to the last 16 of the Europa League on merit because of how we have played in the competition from the start. We are delighted to be there and we want to give a good account of ourselves. It’s a great draw for us against a massive German side. I’m sure it will be two tough games but we need to look forward to them.”
With reservations, whatever Jack might say.