IT can be, as anyone in Germany could have told Rangers when they were over in Dortmund for their Europa League knockout round play-off match last week, difficult to fight on two different fronts.
Would the Ibrox club have been held to a draw in their cinch Premiership fixture against Dundee United at Tannadice yesterday if they had not played a mentally and physically draining game against top class continental opposition on foreign soil on Thursday night?
The Scottish champions’ heroic exploits in the Westfalenstadion may have contributed to the subdued start they made to a match which got underway at noon and might have been responsible for them falling behind in the first-half.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst only made one change to his starting line-up – Filip Helander came in at centre half, Calvin Bassey moved to left back and Borna Barisic dropped to the bench – and it took until after half-time for his out-of-sorts charges to start showing the fluidity and intensity they needed to.
His predecessor Steven Gerrard called for the SPFL to abolish early kick-offs on the Sunday after European matches during his three and a bit seasons here and it was easy to see why in the opening 45 minutes.
Yet, it would be wrong to attribute these dropped points – which allowed their city rivals Celtic, who edged out bottom-placed Dundee 3-2 at Parkhead later, to forge three clear of them at the top of the Premiership table – to a European hangover.
This was the fourth time in seven league games that Rangers have failed to triumph. They have squandered no fewer than nine points in total since competitive football restarted after the winter break last month and have seen their comfortable lead evaporate as a consequence. Beating Aberdeen, Ross County, Celtic and now United away has proved beyond them.
Benjamin Siegrist underlined why he has been linked with a move to Rangers when his contract expires in the summer in the second-half. The goalkeeper did superbly to deny first Joe Aribo and then Alfredo Morelos as the visitors stepped up their endeavours. Substitutes Amad Diallo and Fashion Sakala both struck the woodwork in the closing stages.
But only Aribo, who rifled a Bassey cut back high into the roof of the net in the 76th minute to take his tally for the 2021/22 campaign to seven, could convert. It was too little, too late.
Any drop in standards is punished ruthlessly in the Scottish game. Far too often this year Rangers have been punished for failing to perform for the full 90 minutes on the road. It is a costly flaw which Van Bronckhorst will have to address and rectify quickly if Rangers are to retain their title come May. Games are rapidly running out.
Tam Courts, whose side took the lead in the 29th minute when young Ross Graham got on the end of a Dylan Levitt corner in and nodded a downward header beyond Allan McGregor, felt that his men, who defended as if their lives depended on it, had merited a point for the effort they put into the encounter. They certainly outfought their adversaries.
Yes, the visitors had two strong penalty claims waved away by referee Bobby Madden – first when Graham handled a Charlie Mulgrew clearance inside his own area and then when the same player held back Sakala a few yards in front of the posts.
However, the excellent Ilmari Niskanen was desperately unlucky not to put United two in front in the first-half when he stole in front of the dithering Connor Goldson, chopped inside Helander and got a shot away. His effort struck Tavernier’s heel and deflected just wide.
It was all Rangers in the last half an hour. But by then they were playing catch-up. They left it too long to get their act together and paid the price.
Courts, whose men moved into fifth spot on goal difference and increased their hopes of securing a place in the Conference League qualifying rounds next term, was undaunted about facing Rangers, who had been hailed as heroes after thrashing Borussia Dortmund 4-2 in midweek, and was always confident they could get a result if they gave their all.
“It was great for them and for Scottish football,” he said. “But domestic football is different, Scottish football is different.
“This is a difficult place to come. It’s difficult because our fans are excellent, we have a lot of good players and we know how to execute a game plan. Once we got in front today I think the only thing that was missing for us was actually getting the second one which would have made it really difficult for Rangers.
“With the quality they’ve got and even the changes they made from the bench they are always going to push you to the bitter end. When they did score, as much as I was disappointed for the players, it probably didn’t come against the run of play.
“They finished strongly. But I think sometimes it’s actually the scoreline that dictates your tiredness. They had no time to feel tired, they had to push. They are fighting to retain their title so they have to push until the very end.
“That’s what they did and they got their breakthrough and their point but it’s a really, really good point for us as well in terms of the gameplan which was executed, the quality on the pitch and the spirit from the players.”
Aaron Ramsey, Rangers’ high-profile loan signing from Juventus, last month missed out along with Leon Balogun and Jon McLaughlin. The Ibrox cub confirmed that Ramsey and Balogun had minor knocks and McLaughlin was suffering from a virus and stated that all three should be available for the Dortmund rematch in Govan this week.
Van Bronkhorst will be hoping that the Welsh internationalist can provide the Glasgow club with some added quality and composure in the final third in their final 11 Premiership outings when he returns. They are in need of some inspiration.