The temples may be greying but Allan McGregor might be entitled to feel like he can sup at the fountain of footballing youth for many years to come.
At 35, the Rangers keeper certainly seems to have discovered a special elixir. McGregor, now in his second spell at Ibrox, has always been a performer of excellence but this season he has taken his game to such a level that he looks as if he could have as many productive years in front of as behind him.
Two saves in the first period last night typified the supreme agility and anticipation that has made McGregor such a marvel for club and country this campaign.
The second of these defied the laws of physiology, and could be placed in the bracket of stops that you will rarely see bettered. It was that good. It seemed that for all the world Toko Ekambi was going to put Villarreal in front on the stroke of half-time when a mistake from Joe Worrall allowed him through on goal and with only McGregor to face down. His attempted finish was accurate, true and travelling and yet somehow the Rangers keeper managed to get an amazingly strong hand to it, bending his arm above his head as if he were adopting some yoga pose, to repeal the ball.
The gasps the block brought from the crowd were only equal to the sinking feeling that enveloped the stadium when the same Villarreal player sliced through the Rangers backline quarter of an hour earlier to find only McGregor blocking his route to goal. Then, the Scotland No 1 was able to spread himself to become an impenetrable wall the striker could not find a way through.
Keepers are not like goalscorers in that they cannot be considered match winners, yet with a more modest save to deny Ekambi a third time early in the second period, McGregor effectively completed a goalkeeping hat-trick. On the back of his block for Scotland against Israel in the dying seconds of last week’s decisive Nations League international, there can be no argument that McGregor is a player performing at the peak of his powers.
Last night, the extent of those powers did not go unnoticed across the wider footballing populace. That save – and it will become one of those moments known as that save – engendered twittersphere adulation. The reaction to it was best summed up by the poser floated by the BBC’s chief football correspondent Phil McNulty. “Pardon my ignorance – but has Allan McGregor always been as good as he seems to be now?” he petitioned. It is a good question.
Those online japesters at Bet365 are never slow to treat their followers to their comedic talents on such occasions and actually even succeeded in coming up with an amusing line that did justice to McGregor’s exploits on the verge of half-time. “If there was an asteroid hurtling towards the Earth, Allan McGregor would probably palm it away,” ran their tweet.
Certainly, the Rangers keeper is producing form that is out of this world. He deserved more acclaim from the 51,000 inside Ibrox last night, it could be said. Instead, though, too many of the Rangers followers seemed to be back to their worst, giving vent to sectarian paeans that should have been consigned to a bygone world.