Rangers supporters have been pretty disappointed in recent times after seeing their side suffer a first Europa League defeat of the season on Thursday night.
Steven Gerrard’s men went into their clash with Spartak Moscow having picked up a win and two draws from their opening three group stage matches, and thus in a good position to qualify for the last 32. Yet the Gers were unable to maintain their unbeaten start to their group stage campaign despite three times taking the lead in the Russian capital on Thursday night, eventually losing 4-3 to slip to third place in the group.
Thus, there have been many despondent Light Blues fans up and down the country in recent times, several of whom are likely to be intrigued by recent comments from BBC Scotland’s Alasdair Lamont, who has underlined the one thing Rangers must do if they are to qualify for the knockout stages, namely ‘improve defensively’.
And after another difficult night at the back in Moscow on Thursday, taking their goals against tally to seven from their four group stage games, Lamont is absolutely right to underline the defensive problems as holding the key to their knockout hopes.
Ultimately, Gerrard’s early success at Ibrox was chiefly down to his side’s excellent defensive record, what with the Gers keeping five clean sheets in their eight Europa League qualifying matches, and conceding just one in each of the other three games.
Yes, they didn’t necessarily sweep teams aside in the early stages of Gerrard’s reign, but they were resolute defensively and very difficult to break down and thus beat – that isn’t the case anymore.
Yes, the calibre of opponents has certainly risen with Spartak, Villarreal, and Rapid Vienna in their Europa League group, but to concede four times in the Russian capital on Thursday night, all after leading on three separate occasions, will surely be of grave concern to Gerrard’s men, and something that needs addressing fast.
And while they haven’t exactly been shipping goals regularly domestically, their 2-0 success at St Mirren at the start of the month was their first clean sheet in the Scottish Premiership since their 4-0 thumping victory over Dundee, back on September 15.
So while Gerrard would have unlikely foreseen his team shipping four on Thursday, they haven’t exactly been pulling up trees defensively in the last few months – a defensive horror show appeared to be just round the corner.
And so it proved against Spartak on Thursday night, and as Lamont rightly states, they simply must improve at the back if they are to stand a chance of reaching the Europa League knockout stages.
The Light Blues may be third in Group G but they are just a point behind Spartak in second and two adrift of Villarreal in top spot – and with the latter to come at home later this month and bottom side Rapid Vienna away in December, qualification is still very possible.
But that’s only if they return to the Rangers team that were tough to break down and beat in the first few weeks of Gerrard’s reign – do that and, as Lamont suggests, both of their last two Europa League games are ‘winnable’.
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