All managers seek to capitalise on an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with supporters, and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst is the toast of Govan after a week to savour for the Scottish champions.
The Dutchman led Rangers to their first European semi-final in 14 years after an electrifying performance against Sporting Braga - and three days later, he masterminded a dramatic last four triumph over Celtic in the Scottish Cup.
It was a monumental week for Rangers, and the players showed the grit and determination necessary to ensure their end of season remains rich with possibilities. Two taxing fixtures in quick succession were successfully negotiated, and Van Bronckhorst's men remain in contention for a historic cup double in May.
Van Bronckhorst has demonstrated his managerial prowess on the Europa League stage - guiding his side to impressive victories over Borussia Dortmund and Red Star Belgrade - but domestic progress has proved harder to chart. A six-point advantage at the top of the Premiership has become a six-point deficit, and doubts have lingered regarding the Dutchman’s ability to flourish in the cutthroat world of Scottish football.
The Europa League clash with Braga was the club’s most significant game since their financial meltdown decade ago, yet last Sunday’s Scottish Cup clash was of greater importance to Van Bronckhorst. A third successive loss to Celtic was unthinkable, and his credibility would have plummeted if Ange Postecoglou had moved a step closer to a domestic treble.
Van Bronckhorst’s reign has been unusual so far. Rarely has a Rangers manager floundered domestically yet dazzled in Europe. Thursday nights have brought unbridled joy, while Sunday afternoons have darkened the mood.
Throughout the 120 minutes of the Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic, Van Bronckhorst was animated on the touchline, regularly cajoling his unrelenting charges. He was more demonstrative than usual, the calm exterior had gone, and the players responded to his constant encouragement.
From the first whistle, Rangers sought to smother Celtic. They unsettled their fierce rivals with an aggressive press and a refusal to retreat. Last Thursday’s exertions appeared to matter little, as they eventually overpowered a punch-drunk opponent in extra-time.
The most pleasing aspect for the supporters, apart from the result, was the front foot approach. Against Celtic in February, the Ibrox club were tentative and obliging as they endured a horrid evening. Stubbornness is often associated with Dutch coaches, but Van Bronckhorst is proving to be different - he is not tactically rigid or inflexible.
John Lundstram had to wait patiently for a chance to shine under Van Bronckhorst, and he has grasped his opportunity. The Englishman typified Rangers display at Hampden. The snarling Liverpudlian was the dominant force, using brains and brawn to exert control and deliver a Man of the Match performance.
It’s been a dramatic turnaround for Lundstram, who attracted interest from Middlesbrough in January. Few would have complained if the 28-year-old had made a sharpish getaway after a largely forgettable few months in Glasgow, but he persevered and has become a key component of Van Bronckhorst’s side.
A single Old Firm victory in the Scottish Cup doesn’t alter the fact Rangers are likely to fail their primary season objective; Celtic have one hand on the Premiership trophy. There was growing resistance to Van Bronckhorst being responsible for a significant summer rebuild, but recent results have allayed fears and swayed public opinion back in his favour.
Regardless of how the next five weeks unfold, Van Bronckhorst will soon have the chance to put his stamp on the ageing squad he inherited from Steven Gerrard. It’s taken the Dutchman time to grow into the role as Rangers manager, but slowly but surely, he is rising to the challenge.
Rangers return to league action against Motherwell on Saturday lunchtime.
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