PHILIPPE Clement, along with all of the Rangers supporters in the 49,530-strong crowd, would have preferred it if his side had wrapped up the three points against Hearts at Ibrox on Sunday far earlier than they did.
Scoring in the 89th and 93rd minutes of the cinch Premiership match was not particularly good for the Belgian’s blood pressure.
Yet Clement, whose team are now just five points behind their city rivals in the top flight table following the dramatic 2-1 triumph over their Tynecastle opponents, was certainly pleased with the never-say-day attitude shown by his charges during the encounter.
He is confident that if James Tavernier, who netted a late equaliser from the penalty spot and then set up substitute Danilo for a last-gasp winner with a cross, and his team mates can continue to exhibit the battling qualities which were evident at the weekend they can enjoy an “amazing season”.
“Was it perfect?” he said. “No. But they have seen if they never give up a lot of good things can happen. It is not a guarantee that you win every game because not even the best teams in the world manage to do that, but we are going to win much more games than we have done until now.”
Clement has a point. Capitulating meekly to opponents who take the lead, as Hearts did through Lawrence Shankland on Sunday, has been a costly trait for Rangers in the past two seasons.
If they can show greater fortitude in adversity going forward it could make a substantial difference to their on-field fortunes. Potentially, it could turn them from also-rans into champions.
If they had showed the same heart last season as they did in their latest outing then the outcome of the 2022/23 campaign – which Celtic ended up being crowned champions in – could have been quite different.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s charges came from 1-0 down against Livingston at the Tony Macaroni Arena on the opening day of last season and won 2-1 thanks to second half strikes from Scott Arfield and that man Tavernier.
But they were unable to replicate the feat against the same opponents at Ibrox in October after Joel Nouble had given David Martindale’s side an early lead. John Lundstram equalised in the final minute of regulation time. However, two points were dropped.
It was exactly the same story in the meeting with St Mirren in a league match at the SMiSA Stadium the following month. Tavernier cancelled out the second half opener that Jonah Ayunga had netted for the hosts with six minutes left. No winner was forthcoming.
That proved to be Van Bronckhorst’s final match in charge. The Dutchman was, despite having a lengthy injury list, sacked during the World Cup break. His replacement Michael Beale got, initially at least, far more out of his squad at first.
Rangers came from 1-0 and 2-1 down to Hibs in his first game in the dugout in December to triumph 3-2 at home, beat Aberdeen 3-2 away five days later thanks to 95th and 97th minute goals from Arfield and then battered Hibs 4-1 and Motherwell 4-2 despite conceding first.
But their track record in their all-important meetings against their city rivals was nowhere near as impressive; they were held to 2-2 draw at Ibrox by Ange Postecoglou’s team in January after allowing Daizen Maeda to score in the early exchanges and then lost 3-2 to their age-old adversaries at Parkhead in April after they had let Kyogo Furuhashi break the deadlock in the first half.
A 2-0 defeat to Aberdeen at Pittodrie, admittedly after the league had been lost, followed as well as a 2-2 draw with Hearts, after Shankland had put the Gorgie team in front in the opening minute, in their penultimate league fixture in May.
Rangers shipped no fewer than 14 points in the Premiership in games in which they allowed their opponents to take the lead – and they finished seven adrift of eventual champions Celtic come June.
Their problems, of course, ran deep last term. It is far too simplistic to say they would have been crowned champions if they had exhibited greater resolve. They were missing important players, lost confidence and form and ultimately lacked the quality needed to land any silverware. Still, showing a far greater willingness to scrap until the final whistle would not have harmed their cause.
It has certainly served their old foes across the River Clyde well. “We never stop,” became a mantra for Postecoglou’s side during the Greek-Australian’s time in the East End. With good reason.
They beat St Johnstone away and Ross County, Hearts and Hibs at home last term thanks to gallant fightbacks and retained their league crown by a comfortable margin. It had been an identical story the season before.
It has been suggested that Rangers lack vocal on-field leaders and claimed that too many players in light blue jerseys are unable to cope when their own fans start to aim abuse in their direction and retreat into their own shells.
But on Sunday they sucked up the flak that rained down on them, redoubled their efforts and were rewarded with what was an important win psychologically.
They must build on the result against Dundee – who have more than held their own since winning promotion from the Championship and who moved up to fifth spot in the table with a win over Livingston in West Lothian on Saturday - at Dens Park tomorrow evening.
Dropping points against lesser opposition, especially on the road, proved as costly to Clement’s predecessors Beale, Van Bronckhorst and Steven Gerrard as failing to prevail in Old Firm matches.
The former Beveren, Genk, Club Brugge and Monaco manager must prove he can win away domestically after two triumphs on home turf. But it was little wonder that the 49-year-old was so elated at the manner of the win at the weekend.
If Rangers can show the same sort of backbone as they did against Hearts in the weeks and months ahead then they will continue to apply pressure to the current leaders and make the Scottish title race interesting viewing indeed.