‘Outstanding’ Butland fulfilling potential at Rangers

Jack Butland has long been used to pressure.

Tipped as a superstar from the day he burst onto the scene at Birmingham City as a teenager, he was earmarked as a future England number one.

He went on to fulfil that role on nine occasions and spent time with Stoke City, Crystal Palace and even Manchester United, yet his career has carried a lingering sense of unfulfilled promise.

In the summer, the goalkeeper signed for Rangers. His arrival was heralded as a coup and so it has proved, with the latest in a sequence of stellar performances from the 30-year-old coming as the Ibrox side beat Real Betis to reach the Europa League last 16.

Butland may have conceded two amid the madness in Seville, but those unstoppable finishes would have been added to if the goalkeeper had not pulled off the kind of stunning saves he has been making all season in Glasgow.

The Englishman has done so at a time of great need for the Ibrox side, desperately craving a period of stability after the retirement of stalwart Allan McGregor, whose infallible presence between the sticks had faded as age caught up with him.

Questions swirled at the start of the season as to whether Butland could take up the mantle. Whether it be in Spain or Scotland, week after week, he answers resoundingly.

“Jack Butland had a little bit of an Allan McGregor performance when he needed to step up,” said Sportsound pundit Rory Loy.

“He had a couple of big, big moments. I thought he was superb.”

With a Premiership-best save percentage of 81%, having conceded only eight goals from 42 shots on target faced, Butland has been a rare success from a summer of patchy recruitment in Govan.

“Butland has been the best signing of the lot,” former Rangers striker and manager Ally McCoist said on TNT Sports. “In fact, he might be Rangers’ best signing for a few years. He’s been outstanding.”

While the goalkeeper has lapped up the plaudits, his fellow new starts have quickly found out just how expectant the Ibrox crowd is.

Sam Lammers, Jose Cifuentes, Cyriel Dessers and Dujon Sterling have all floundered at times under the pressure of playing for Rangers.

Yet in Thursday’s thriller, they all rose to the occasion, dispelling question marks and snide remarks to propel their side to the knockout stages of the continent’s second-tier competition.

Top scorer Abdallah Sima was already a success before he blasted Rangers into an early lead, but many of his cohorts proved a point when it mattered most.

Cifuentes and Dessers combined for the visitors’ second in sensational fashion. A pinpoint pass from the former and a stunning dribble and finish from the latter.

‘I saw a team of winners’

None of the 14 in blue who stepped onto Spanish soil are Philippe Clement’s signings, but on this night, they well and truly felt like his team. His pride was palpable post-match.

“I am really proud of the team I saw, what I wanted to see, the things we worked on in the last couple of weeks,” the Rangers manager said.

“I want to see a team of winners that never give up, where everybody wants to do their job and that is what they did today. They played a big game.

“I said I wanted to see a brave team, not a team that only wanted to defend. We played our football, the team became stronger and stronger, we dug in and stayed together and then the moments come.”

Off the back of their rousing win in Seville – the kind that characterised their charge to the final 19 months ago in the same city – things are starting to look rosy for Rangers.

Europa League progression secured, they now have the opportunity to hold aloft the first silverware of the season in a Hampden showdown with Aberdeen on Sunday.

And with an Old Firm game looming at the end of the month, Celtic’s stuttering in recent weeks means the title race is not the foregone conclusion that it might have appeared.

If Butland’s brilliance can be combined with continued improvement by his fellow new signings, Clement’s strong start could soon become a storied season.