Those who’d dutifully remained inside Ibrox come the 87th minute yesterday had done so more in hope than expectation. Perhaps geering up to vent frustrations at this group of players who appeared on route to an unimaginable fourth defeat in the season’s first 10 league games. It looked an afternoon where, although the title would not have been out of reach mathematically, everyone was resigned to defeat.

The day after Celtic had dropped points and offered the chance to cut a deficit already gaping, two points they’d dropped would instead turned into one gained.

Philippe Clement, growing increasingly irate on the touchline, had not given up hope. Unlike the others in attendance, the Belgian hadn’t sat through this movie yet; repetitive crossing, a slow tempo and the chances deriving from variance more than any considered pattern of play. The passing of responsibility and slumped shoulders in blue, seemingly coming to terms with reality. Bracing themselves for another abrasive reaction from the stands come the final whistle.

A lack of experience can lead to naivety but fresh perspective is also capable of breeding new beginnings. Clement spoke to his side before the game about their reaction to adversity, a topic he’s mentioned in the press repeatedly of late. Still observing his team and handing them a “blank piece of paper” this game was not done in his mind and, unlike everyone else in the stadium perhaps, he was not considering the baggage that weighed down so many on the pitch. Until 87 minutes those Rangers careers offered a "blank piece of paper" were set to blot copy once again.

Rangers’ issue for so long has been these very type of games and moments. During defeats to Aberdeen and Celtic earlier this season, there was sufficient time to recover three points but not the means. Ibrox knew that too. Stadiums can work for and against you and, in contrast to the power of a European night, the understandable anxiety and justified anger of these occassions materialises into performances. When Lawrence Shankland peeled off of Ridvan Yilmaz at the back post to head home an early opener, after only a few minutes, that familiar feeling of ‘Here we go again’ that can engulf fans appeared and, so clearly, fed onto the pitch.

The home side still had chances but lacked finishes and then, when James Tavernier was handed a chance from the spot just before half time the captain struck the post. As it happened he would have one more go, late on and under inordinate pressure. Miss and the league would be done and he’d have two failed spot-kicks to answer for. As Ibrox collectively held its breath it felt like a sliding doors moment. 

Tavernier found the net with confidence before, minutes later, delivering a cross onto the head of the returning Danilo up there with his very best. Rangers were fortunate to win a penalty because a goal looked unlikely to arrive otherwise. When level, Clement's men charged forward with momentum and tempo, working in tandem with an excited crowd and showing an intentionality that had been absent for the rest of the afternoon.

“I spoke for the last two days with the team that I am still in an observation period to see, I know their football qualities, how they are as individuals and a group. I am curious if there comes a moment, and it always comes, where the scenario is not going our way how they would react,” Clement said in his post-match press conference.

“Our strength needs to be that whatever happens in football, we never give up and we keep on repeating what we are doing because they are doing already good things together. Of course, we need to still make better a lot of details but if we show the right mentality over and over again in every action and in the reaction afterwards then we are a really good team.

“Was it perfect? No. But for me it is a reference game in the way that 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.

“It is a big step forward for me and in that way Tav was an example today. Missing the penalty, getting the stick because of that, that moment you can lose confidence, you can go down, you can stop taking responsibility. But he took the second penalty, he scored it and afterwards he gave the assist for the second goal. I want to see a lot of players with that mentality in my dressing room. I want to see everybody with that mentality in my dressing room because then we are going to make an amazing season.”

This group of players, new and old, have not had such a reference point up until now. Their only real experience on days like this has been a slow-dying defeat. Whether it be Malmo in the summer of 2021, Celtic in the Spring of 2022, Livingston in that autumn, Aberdeen or the Old Firm recently. Belief and momentum are so powerful in football because if they're not working for you, they're working against you.

Rangers have at times in recent seasons resembled a team who don't believe in their roles, functions or ability in such scenarios. Too often the stress reflex of crosses, full-backs offering width and a distinct lack of creativity at the base of midfield has made games comfortable for opponents. Two late goals cannot, and you’d imagine will not, cloud Clement’s analysis internally. Hearts targeted the left side of the Rangers defence effectively and often looked more dangerous in space. No player had more passes than John Lundstram in the second half and it was no wonder that the home side often struggled to create without creative profiles on the ball. Nico Raskin being stretchered off was not a sight anyone wanted to see with that in mind.

Still, on the basis of xG and even after discluding penalty kicks, the home side arguably should’ve levelled the game far sooner. Hearts’ five efforts throughout the game and 0.26xG in comparison to the hosts’ 3.71 doesn’t tell the whole story and although outwith each spot-kick Rangers had amassed over 2xG it did not feel like that.

However, perhaps Danilo’s pinpoint header from what was a relatively standard chance at 0.14xG provides context. If he had started this game, the deficit would’ve been cut far earlier. Cyriel Dessers only had two shots but they accounted for 0.91xG - meaning he really should’ve put away one of two excellent chances. Lammers’ miss at the front post in the second half, 0.18xG, was not as glaring statistically but life becomes a whole lot easier for teams when they’ve a striker to finish on the margins.

This group have not earned the trust of their crowd in such circumstances and misses did not help that fact. But when Tavernier was given a second chance he showed a belief that many others might have lacked, providing the example his manager desired.

Rangers needed to appoint the right character after sacking Michael Beale, because the situation inherited by Clement is far from favourable. While he may not have a magic wand, this was a week in which at half time the European campaign could’ve taken a serious step to exit and the league looked over, with another season of transition and frustration in the post.

Instead? Rangers found a way to keep fighting and have a win to show for it. Yesterday showed the rewards of “never giving up” according to the manager - the task now is doing it again and again.