Rangers manager Giovanni van Bronkhorst has had a busy recruiting summer, meaning expectations are high, the roster has been re-formed and the pressure is on domestic and European pressure – as it always is in Glasgow.
It’s been a mixed start with a hard-fought win over Livingston in the Premier League last weekend, followed by a rather unexpected and disappointing loss to Union St. Giloise in a Champions League qualifier on Tuesday. The team looked a bit lethargic and was a shadow of the team that flourished on the big European nights last season.
They have set themselves a tough challenge and will once again rely on the Ibrox fans to clear the line in the second leg.
In general they lacked a sense of purpose in the game and although they had plenty of the ball, clear chances were hard to come by.
The thought of exiting the Champions League qualifiers in the third round for the second season in a row would be a major disappointment for the club, especially given the financial options offered for the group stage and the investment made in the past few weeks.
The question the manager will ask is why did he achieve this level of performance on such an important evening?
Van Bronkhorst received a lot of applause for his tactical setup in last season’s memorable Europa League game, but the previously successful back three did not have the desired effect on Tuesday.
They played in front of Union too often and lacked penetration. He will no doubt appreciate his tactics, and I expect a much more aggressive and active Rangers on Tuesday, most likely with four defenders.
The next goal in a draw will be massive. If the Rangers get it, Ibrox will turn into a cauldron of noise. If the Union gets it, the disappointment will be obvious.
I think some of the new players may have woken up after Tuesday night as to what the Rangers fans are expecting and the demands of each game.
Naturally, there will be a period of adjustment after seven new signings as players adapt to a new lifestyle both off and on the field, but for the Rangers, winning is a vital ingredient and they need to learn that quickly. Few clubs bear that kind of pressure so it will be a new experience for many and patience in Glasgow may be lacking so they need to get used to that mindset very quickly.
In the summer, the Rangers needed three things: speed on the flanks, a creative attacking midfielder and a left back.
The first signs of young Mark Tillman, Rabbi Matondo and Rizvan Yilmaz are very encouraging, but the key is to find consistency in their game, and quickly. Yılmaz is in a slightly healthier position because, playing at Besiktas and the tension of the Turkish fans, he understands well how important a win is.
For Tillman and Matondo, they are both young men seeking to establish themselves in a high-profile environment. They certainly have opportunities to make the impact that Van Bronkhorst is looking for, but they may have to be treated with a certain amount of tolerance due to their age and relative inexperience.
With Tuesday in mind, van Bronkhorst will look to improve significantly against Kilmarnock at home tonight. Ben Davies will likely get his first start with the Rangers, as will Yilmaz, and there’s nothing the manager would like more than building up some much-needed momentum ahead of Tuesday’s vital second leg.
However, one person who would like to put an end to the job is old Rangers and Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty.
He knows all about the expectations of a Rangers player and the pressure that brings, but he’s also professional enough to know he has a job for Derek McInnes’ people.
Playing under the scrutiny of Rangers fans, he will know more than most that if they can keep van Bronkhorst’s men in the first 15 to 20 minutes, the level of unrest in the stadium could rise and play into the hands of the Kilmarnock players.
He is still waiting for his first goal of the new league season and it would be in his spirit to score him this time, wouldn’t it?