Renewed optimism, battle-hardened squad and character: Rangers enjoying their free midweek

James Tavernier and Steven Davis celebrate during Rangers’ Scottish Cup win over Celtic.

April started poorly for Rangers with a damaging cinch Premiership defeat by Celtic and then a 1-0 loss in Portugal to Braga in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final. With star striker Alfredo Morelos also ruled out until the start of next season after undergoing thigh surgery, their season looked to be heading towards bitter disappointment on the domestic and continental front.

Momentum is such a key factor in sport, so for Rangers to recover their poise in the space of seven days and breathe genuine hope into their challenges on three fronts deserves immense credit.

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On Sunday, 10 April, they beat St Mirren 4-0 on league duty three days after their exploits in Europe, and then on Thursday, 14 April, they surmounted the one-goal deficit in the second leg of their tie against Braga to book to place in the last four of the Europa League. Having needed extra-time to do so, the odds were against them turning over Celtic in the Scottish Cup semis on Sunday, 17 April, but again they dug deep, so deep to do so. Once again they needed a further 30 minutes, but they prevailed 2-1.

The upshot of this gruelling period that left many Rangers players absolutely flat out at full-time at Hampden is a Scottish Cup final to look forward to on Saturday, 21 May, against Hearts, a Europa League semi-final against RB Leipzig – the first leg away on Thursday, 28 April – with a Premiership match against Motherwell to come this weekend.

As Rangers trail Celtic by six points in the league and have a vastly inferior goal difference with just five games to play, the odds are still stacked against Rangers successfully defending their crown. At the very least, though, the victory at Hampden will have served notice to Celtic that their arch-rivals will not relinquish their crown lightly. There is still one more Old Firm meeting to come, on the first day of May, at Celtic Park. Last week, there was talk of Celtic perhaps winning the league that day. That talk has been muted.

Rangers’ best hope of silverware remains against Hearts next month. They will go into that match as warm favorites in what is a repeat of the 1998 Scottish Cup final, taken by the Jambos after a 2-1 win. If they can overcome Bundesliga cracks RB Leipzig over two legs – and they are very much the underdogs there – then a Europa League final against West Ham or Eintracht Frankfurt awaits them in Seville, three days before their date at the national stadium.

Given the volume of matches and emotional nature of them, Van Bronckhorst and his players have shown what they are made of. We talk about character a little flippantly in football, but Rangers have it in spades. The Dutchman was questioned about his tactics and suitability for the job by some parts of the Rangers support earlier in the month, yet he has the chance to be the first Rangers manager to get his hands on the Scottish Cup since 2009 and repeat what Walter Smith did in 2008 and lead the club to a European final.

And captain James Tavernier, already a hero at Rangers, has the opportunity to become a bona fide legend. The way he drove Rangers forward at Hampden personifies this Rangers team right now. They are still fighting hard as we enter the business end of the 2021/22 campaign.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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