RANGERS are off and running in the Europa League. Now Steven Gerrard’s side must hit their stride after victory over Brondby.

The Ibrox boss was content with this fixture being labelled as a ‘must-win’ for the champions. Indeed, he had made such a claim in the aftermath of the defeat to Sparta Prague that left his side bottom of Group A.

Rangers no longer occupy that spot and they are no longer staring at a premature exit from a competition in which they have thrived – and reached the last 16 – over the previous two seasons.

Goals from Leon Balogun and Kemar Roofe earned Gerrard’s side a deserved and hugely significant success. Rangers can now head to Denmark next month with little to fear and another win in their sights.

Victory here could, and perhaps should, have been more emphatic but this was a night of many positives for Rangers as their performance was rewarded with the points that they so desperately sought.

The gauntlet had been laid down by Gerrard on Wednesday as he challenged his forwards to rise to the occasion at Ibrox. There was no time like the present for Rangers to find their rhythm.

The champions did that in terms of their overall play, but the opening goal of the evening arrived from an unexpected source as Balogun scored for the first time in these colours.

At that stage, it was no more than Rangers deserved. Their start had been positive as – spurred on by a vocal home crowd – they went in search of the victory that was required to maintain their interest in the competition this term.

The Brondby support had arrived at Ibrox in plenty of time and set about making themselves heard, but a handful would embarrass the near 2000-strong travelling contingent in the seconds before they were silenced.

A barrage of objects were lobbed towards James Tavernier as he prepared to take a corner on the far side. The captain would alert the linesman to the missiles that thankfully didn’t cause any damage before helping inflict the first blow of the night.

His corner was whipped into a dangerous area with pace and precision. Balogun was in the right place at the right time.

Keeper Thomas Mikkelsen would get a hand on a bullet header from the Nigerian, but he was never going to stop it as Balogun opened his Rangers account in emphatic fashion.

For all the noise the Brondby fans had made, it was Ibrox that was roaring now. The Danes had travelled in their numbers, but their side didn’t have the quality to cause Rangers any real problems.

By the time Police Scotland had to intervene at the break to bring the Brondby crowd under control, Niels Frederiksen’s side were staring at a defeat. Rangers had victory within their grasps as the night went from bad to worse for the visitors.

The closest Brondby had come to scoring came just minutes before Roofe doubled Rangers’ lead. At the near post, Andrija Pavlović collected a cutback and blazed an effort over the bar when he really should have beaten Allan McGregor.

That proved to be crucial. Moments later, Mikkelsen had to pick the ball out of his net for a second time and Rangers had another goal. Eventually.

A Joe Aribo cross should have been converted by Alfredo Morelos but the striker contrived to miss from close range as his wait to hit 100 goals for Rangers frustratingly continued.

Roofe was on hand to score from close range after Mikkelsen’s stop on the line but the offside flag looked like it had denied the striker his eighth goal of the campaign.

One VAR check and a period of uncertainty later and Roofe could take the acclaim from his team-mates. It was worth the wait for Rangers.

Gerrard had spent the time whilst play was stopped arguing with the fourth official and linesman over a throw-in call that had gone against his side moments beforehand.

All the eyes from the Ibrox crowd were fixed on referee Fran Jovic. One signal prepared them for a decision, the second sparked the celebrations as he confirmed that Roofe was onside by the slimmest of margins.

That didn’t matter to Rangers. Their focus was now on the third goal that would have secured the points.

It didn’t come before the break, though. Morelos struck the post with a fine effort on the angle, while Roofe was denied as he flicked a Tavernier free-kick towards goal.

Rangers were in command, but their lead was almost halved just seconds after the restart as Borna Barisic – and everyone in red, white and blue – breathed a sigh of relief.

A slack, careless pass left Mikael Uhre with only McGregor to beat. The miss, as he failed to even hit the target, was even worse than blunder from Barisic.

It was a scare for Rangers, but not one that threatened to knock them off their stride as the champions regrouped from a rare, brief spell on the back foot.

There was a sense of disbelief around Ibrox when referee Jovic failed to award a penalty after Aribo was blatantly clipped by Sigurd Rosted. There was no VAR back-up this time for Rangers unfortunately as they were denied the chance to clinch the win from the spot.

The loss of Balogun through injury wasn’t part of the script for Rangers. As the stopper walked off, he greeted Calvin Bassey on the touchline and gave his new international compatriot a quick motivational speech before the left-back filled in at centre-half.

The next change from Gerrard saw Fashion Sakala replace Morelos. The Colombian may not have hit the century here, but his performance overall was closer to what Rangers need from him as the Europa League once again saw him raise his levels.

Sakala should have scored when he only had Mikkelsen between him and the target, while fellow substitute Scott Arfield saw his effort clip the bar as Rangers were frustrated in their search for the third goal.

In the end, it wasn’t needed. The three points where all that really mattered at Ibrox as the champions took their first step forward in Group A.

The table makes for more encouraging viewing for Rangers now. Time will tell if this is the night where Gerrard could dare to dream or just a false dawn at Ibrox.