WHETHER Rangers can extend their remarkable European run beyond Christmas by beating Rapid Vienna in Austria on Thursday week very much very much remains, despite their heroics on the continent in the last five months, to be seen.

Their opponents will certainly go into their final Europa League group game on a high having kept alive their own chances of reaching the last 32 with a dramatic late win over Spartak Moscow in Russia on Thursday evening.

Steven Gerrard’s men are likely to find their resurgent rivals far more difficult to overcome than they did at Ibrox back at the start of October when they romped to a deserved 3-1 triumph.

Clinching a place in the knockout rounds, then, is far from guaranteed.

But a few things are certain at this stage – Gerrard will handle whatever the occasion throws at him, Allan McGregor will be inspired and Rangers will fight for the victory from the first to the final whistle.

The 0-0 draw with Villarreal in Glasgow on Thursday evening – achieved with just 10 men following the controversial first-half red carding of Daniel Candeias – highlighted many positives.

Gerrard himself certainly coped with the loss of the influential winger well by switching to a 4-3-1-1 formation. Experiences like the Europa League play-off match against Ufa, when Rangers had two players sent off, have proved invaluable. He has matured greatly as a manager.

“I was obviously concerned in the situation especially at this level in the Europa League,” he said at the Hummel Training Centre yesterday as he looked back on the game. “But we have big trust in the players and in ourselves as a staff that we can find a solution and help the players get it over the line.

“We’ve got to go and give them a way and a game plan to stick to if we’re a man or two down and they carried that game plan out really, really well.”

Asked why he had kept Glenn Middleton in an advanced position instead of switching to a more defensive 4-4-1 system, Gerrard said: “I think it boils down to maths, really. We were quite comfortable with the two centre halves of Villarreal having possession. They were not going to hurt us.

“So if you take those two out of it, it is basically quite even. If we stay compact, do the dirty work and every single player buys into it, does his job and 10 per cent more, then you make up for that player loss.

“Of course, they are going to have moments and more possession. When (Santi) Cazorla came on it became a little bit more difficult because he can hurt us with a pass in behind. But that is when you need your goalkeeper and centre-halves to be big in important moments. And the players delivered.”

McGregor, so often the hero for Rangers in Europe this season, certainly did that. The Scotland goalkeeper kept the scoreline goalless with exceptional saves in both halves. His manager has run out of superlatives to describe him. He was quick to dismiss the player’s modest suggestion afterwards that he had just got lucky.

“I don’t think it’s luck,” he said. “Those two saves last night were down to talent and ability. For me, he is the best shot-stopper up here. He is right up with the best when it comes down to one v ones and shot-stopping. No doubt.

“I remember watching him in a lot of Old Firms for many years. As a Liverpool player, you are thinking: ‘I wouldn’t mind a bit of him. Not just on talent and ability, but as a leader and a person. You can see a lot when you watch players. He was good enough to play in the top six down in England, no doubt about it.”

Gerrard knows many members of his squad lack the ability and quality to compete at that level. But the man who was one of the most talented players of his generation has no issues with their limitations as long as they work hard. He was pleased with how they coped in adversity on Thursday evening.

“We’ve said on many occasions we have a fantastic group of honest players who want to play football, win and work hard for one another,” he said. “We set down the basics and non-negotiables in pre-season; fighting for each other and running hard and doing the dirty work and the stuff that goes unnoticed and everyone has really bought into that. They have been faced with some big challenges and done well so far.”

Gerrard is now looking forward to a mouthwatering meeting with Vienna on December 13. “They’ve gone to Moscow and got a fantastic result so they will now go in with confidence,” he said. “But we’d certainly have taken this situation when we started on June 15. It’s an opportunity for us to grasp and hopefully we keep everyone fit and healthy and go there with a full-strength team. It’s all set up to be a fantastic match.”

Before that, there is the not so small matter of the Hearts game at Tynecastle tomorrow. Gerrard is, mindful of the effort his side put into the Villarreal game, likely to make wholesale changes to his starting line-up. But the objective will be the same.

““It’ll be tough because they’ve been flying in the league and this one on the back of a European game,” he said. “But we go in with confidence.”