Rangers manager Alex McLeish believes Nuno Capucho’s late winner at Kilmarnock could turn out to be one of the most significant strikes of the season.
With just four minutes left on the clock, the champions faced the demoralising prospect of dropping more points away from Ibrox having failed to beat Motherwell and Livingston last month.
That would have left them seven points behind Celtic and even at this early stage of the campaign McLeish acknowledged that amounted to a weighty advantage for their city rivals.
He said: “Every time you go points behind it becomes more of a mountain to climb.
“You will always be able to say that mathematically you can still do it and there are still plenty of points to play for but if the other team gets some momentum and you start to toil a bit then it gives you a mountain to climb.
“It was an important win. We have got to play everybody in the league a few times more and stranger things have happened.”
Rangers came back from behind to take the points at Rugby Park, although Shota Arveladze had fired them into the lead on the half-hour mark.
Gary McDonald equalised with Killie’s first shot of the game eight minutes later and when Peter Canero made it 2-1 shortly after the restart Rangers were in trouble.
They responded instantly with a spell of fierce pressure that saw Michael Mols hit the crossbar and, after Arveladze had netted an equaliser, Peter Lovenkrands also hit the woodwork.
Kilmarnock had been able to cause Rangers far more problems than they had for Celtic the week before, when the Hoops cantered to a 5-0 victory.
But McLeish was satisfied that his players had put in the required effort after their commitment had been questioned in the previous game.
That was Tuesday night’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester United when the Scottish champions barely threatened their English counterparts and suffered a reverse that may have fatally wounded their Champions League campaign.
McLeish revealed that part of his preparations for the trip to Rugby Park had been to make his players watch themselves failing to rise to the occasion at Old Trafford.
He said: “We watched the Man U stuff and everybody agreed that they didn’t work as hard as they could have for the team.
“It was a disjointed performance with factions all over the field. Whether they were rabbits caught in headlights or some of the players were trying to search for full confidence, these things happen.
“Now we have got a bit of confidence back so we can build on that and hope that other teams can have a bad spell as well.
“Everybody watched the game. The club has got video technicians and we can analyse things after a game.
“The players were annoyed with themselves and knew that they had much more to give. The guys are normally associated with good touch and good passing and I know that we were playing against physical quality in midweek in terms of their speed and technique and sometimes that can ruffle you a wee bit but there was no excuse for some of the bad touches we had during the week.
“But this was a good spirited performance by Rangers and people have said we lack a heart. So they should see now that the players have the club as their priority.”
Killie boss Jim Jefferies was disappointed to have lost to Capucho’s late header from a Mikel Arteta free-kick and blamed goalkeeper Francois Dubourdeau for being beaten from no further than a yard out.
But plus points were also easy to locate.
He said: “We have set ourselves a standard in terms of application that if they do that between now and the next 10 games we will get ourselves up into a reasonable position.
“They have got to do it against other teams as well. They didn’t do it last week.
“The disappointment for me was that their first goal was a set play and their man was not picked up and then two minutes from the end, nobody should be scoring from a header from a yard out.
“We can only talk about that and learn from it the next time but as far as their passion and pride and determination I thought they showed they had the belief.”