Rangers kicked off their 2023/24 pre-season with a difficult test against Premier League outfit Newcastle.

As Allan McGregor was handed a well-deserved testimonial match, Eddie Howe’s side provided stern opposition. The visiting 11 were too fast, strong and technical before the interval but a couple of shape changes off the ball allowed Rangers a better foothold after half-time.

The team that started tonight remains some way off the 11 Michael Beale will hope to name when the real stuff kicks off against Kilmarnock early next month, with just three new signings in the side.

Of course, pre-season can’t tell us how a team will perform in the following campaign, but it can demonstrate some of the ideas they’ve been working on.

Our writers pick apart the big talking points from the match.

Allan McGregor makes his final bow

A man who let his gloves do the talking throughout an incredible double spell was clearly emotional, yet still stoic, when interviewed ahead of the game. It was put to him that fans had turned up in numbers as a show of thanks and he was quick to fire back, “It’s my chance to thank them as well". Such words are easy for footballers to throw around with a rehearsed flippantly but the 41-year-old has been on a career rollercoaster that earns him the right to use them authentically.

A young generation of fans will regard him as the greatest ever, and while that question tends to yield answers that primarily show the respondent’s age, there’s no doubt even grizzled Rangers watchers will admit McGregor is firmly in that lofty bracket. Tonight, he had little to do, regardless of Newcastle’s dominance of the football in front of him and Miguel Almiron’s 16th-minute strike was accurate and true enough to leave him helpless. He certainly left in grace and without blemish. Substituted after just over 35 minutes the ground rose as one to salute a bona fide hero, now turned legend.

Ben Davies shows he ain’t finished yet

A player who’s never fully given the impression he’s settled in Govan looked very handy and disciplined against England international Callum Wilson. Partnered with John Souttar, the duo looked resolute. If he’s to be playing his football elsewhere as has been widely speculated, watching scouts will have been impressed by how he defended his team’s goal while, as ever, looking composed and calm on the ball.

There’s never been any doubt Davies has footballing ability - he showed enough last season to prove that. What the player himself has to grasp is that Rangers is a club that puts character above all. If there’s a nagging sense that a defender might be keen not to put his head where it hurts, the murmurs of “he’ll not do” won’t be far behind. If this is to be a season of redemption for this classy defender, and he’s to prove his many doubter wrong, this was a decent opening chapter to the story against an impressive and dangerous team who oozed threat in the first half.

READ MORE: Allan McGregor - The years that formed a Rangers legend

How did new boys fare?

Supporters saw four new faces in Abdallah Sima, Kieran Dowell, Sam Lammers and Jack Butland for the first time. 

Sima led the line largely on scraps but still demonstrated attributes that make his arrival exciting. He’s strong, physical, looks a threat over range and although not a player who thrives with his back-to-goal, can turn and occupy defences. His involvement in the final third, like his side’s, was limited.

Dowell showed flashes of quality in the midfield, playing one clever throughball to Cantwell that could’ve led to a serious chance. Meanwhile, Butland replaced McGregor in the first half, succeeding the man who’s been No.1 since 2018. He made a couple of simple stops, looked comfortable in possession and was, importantly, quick off his line when called upon before a late header looped over his head into the net.

Lammers, a technical player who thrives on the ball, was quiet until a moment of well-timed pressing, aided by the move to a 4-3-1-2 midway through the first half, allowed him to steal the ball and score. That could be a confidence booster for him ahead of the new campaign.

A tricky test well contended

Newcastle were one of the Premier League’s best outfits last season, known for their intense off-ball approach and front-foot football, and named a team with recent £55million arrival Sandro Tonali lining up in the engine room.

Before the break they had it all their way. In response to Rangers’ narrow shape, the visitors looked to switch play as much as possible with Beale’s men unable to get close and press. Subsequently, Rangers adapted throughout, moving to a 4-3-1-2 and 4-5-1 off the ball in an attempt to try and increase the numbers they faced out wide. It was the change to a narrow split striker system, enabling more numbers in central areas up top, that led to the equaliser.

The difficulty Rangers experienced in that first half was that when possession was regained, the Magpies counterpressed relentlessly. This was likely an important, if slightly tedious, lesson for Beale’s side who will need to demonstrate resolve out of possession to reach the Champion League.

Simply put, Rangers won’t play many better sides all season. Although slightly deflating to chase the ball during the first half with the new attacking talent up top restricted in their involvement, matters improved after the break. From Anthony Gordon to Tanoli and Alexander Isak, this was a Champions League team and it showed.

After Lammers’ equaliser, and Raskin’s introduction in the midfield, the hosts’ enjoyed a better spell amid plenty of changes. The Belgian could be this side’s most important player over the next nine months, able to carry his way out of any pressure, find the far side of the pitch and control a midfield.