Four successive games on the road are about to send Rangers to Dingwall and Dundee, Poland and Paisley with the prospect of advancing their cause significantly on three fronts.
On Sunday, Steven Gerrard’s players meet a Ross County side who proved stubborn at Ibrox in October, when only a Brandon Barker goal in the 88th minute finally subdued their threat. Last week, of course, the County embarrassed the other half of the Old Firm with a win at Celtic Park which dumped the holders out of the Scottish League Cup and provoked civil disorder outside the ground.
If Rangers can prevail at the Global Energy Stadium and follow that with success at Tannadice a week later, they will have at least maintained the gap of 11 points in the Scottish Premiership between themselves and Celtic, who have played two games fewer. Between times, a victory away to Lech Poznan would see the Ibrox side win their Europa League group and be seeded in the draw for the last 32.
The last fixture of the four is a visit to St Mirren in the quarter-final of the Betfred Cup, with Rangers now favourites to win the competition and deliver their first trophy under Gerrard. Rangers negotiated a similar passage in September when they beat Lincoln Red Imps and Willem II away in the Europa League qualifiers and hammered Motherwell 5-1 in a league fixture at Fir Park, although that cluster of trips also featured one of their rare domestic stumbles in a 2-2 draw with Hibernian at Easter Road.
It seemed on Thursday that Rangers’ impressive unbeaten run was about to come to an end at home to a Standard Liege side who posed significantly greater menace than they mustered when losing in Belgium on October 22.
Standard led twice, but were ultimately outdistanced by a Connor Goldson header, yet another James Tavernier penalty conversion and Scott Arfield’s predatory winner midway through the second half.
“We let ourselves down with the goals, but we got ourselves back in it with set-pieces, Connor and myself, to really grow into the second half, which we did,” Tavernier said.
“We’ll take that into the game against Ross County and treat that like a cup final, but every game is important for us.
“We’re still at the early stages, but we’ve got to keep this consistency moving forward.”
Tavernier has scored 15 goals in 24 appearances, nine of them from the penalty spot, including two conversions apiece against Hamilton and Motherwell, a valuable yield from the captain and all the more so from a full-back, who maintained his aptitude through extended practice, even when he was not first choice for the job.
“I just kept on working on it after training. Even when I wasn’t on them, I kept on working hard to improve myself,” Tavernier said.
Gerrard, meanwhile, had already turned his attention to the hazard posed by Ross County on their own turf, as demonstrated by their most recent visit to Ibrox.
“They were organised, they stayed in the game right to the very end until Brandon Barker gave us the points,” he said.
“On the back of last week, they will have more belief, more confidence about them, so we will go with respect and ready for a tough challenge, but what I would say is that the focus is always on Rangers and we couldn’t be in a better place going into this game. We have one or two missing, but we are going up there with a healthy group.”
For Neil Lennon, meanwhile, Sunday will be a day of distinctly mixed emotions. It will mark the 20th anniversary of his signing for Celtic as a player under Martin O’Neill to begin an association that saw him captain the club and return as manager on two occasions.
It was Lennon who began the sequence of nine successive championships with three league titles and secured the eighth after stepping in to fill the vacancy left by Brendan Rodgers.
He also completed Celtic’s third successive treble and is now within a single game of a fourth – the Scottish Cup final against Hearts on Dec 20 – but the fans’ obsession with 10 in a row has magnified the disenchantment which would have come the way of any Celtic manager after two wins in 10 games, which included four successive home defeats.
Thursday’s meeting with AC Milan in the San Siro was a dead rubber for Celtic, who could not make the Europa League knockout stage, but they led 2-0 after 14 minutes, only to be undermined by their many defensive frailties in a 4-2 defeat – the third in as many European ties that they had conceded four goals.
The Celtic board have not submitted to the lynch mob who hurled metal railings at police and stewards after last Sunday’s defeat, but they are aware that the manager has few adherents, even among the rational section of the support. The visitors on this occasion are St Johnstone, who were subdued only by a late goal and another in injury time when the teams last met.
If the Perth side improve on that outcome on Sunday, the likelihood is that the anniversary of Lennon’s arrival at Celtic Park will also mark his departure.