‘We are a locker room full of winners’ - James Sands calls for Rangers focus as midfielder vows to end fans European pain

The Ibrox side crashed to their fifth straight Champions League group stage loss in Italy on Wednesday night.
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James Sands is convinced that Rangers have enough quality about them to beat Ajax and register their first win of the Champions League in their final group stage match - even if they fail to win by five clear goals to make the Europa League.

The American utility man, who was handed a rare start during Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat to Napoli, wants to use the lessons learned from their previous five matches in the competition and salvage some personal pride from a chastening European campaign.

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Rangers' US midfielder James Sands (C) fights for the ball with Napoli's French midfielder Tanguy NDombele (R) Rangers' US midfielder James Sands (C) fights for the ball with Napoli's French midfielder Tanguy NDombele (R)
Rangers' US midfielder James Sands (C) fights for the ball with Napoli's French midfielder Tanguy NDombele (R)

Long-term injuries Connor Goldson, Ryan Jack, John Souttar, Filip Helander, Ianis Hagi and Kemar Roofe, have reduced a squad that was already lacking creativity and defensive stability required to compete at Uefa’s top table.

New York City loanee Sands tried his best to stop the Italians from inflicting further damage to his team mates fragile confidence at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona and is confident a patchwork line-up will get it right and give their supporters something to cheer when they face the Dutch side next week.

The USA international admitted: “That has kind of been the story of the season so far - guys stepping up and filling in for guys who have gone off injured. Losing a character like Lunny (John Lundstram) through suspension will be difficult for us, but we can manage. We’ve got the talent to fill in for him.

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“It’s a home game and we expect a positive result. Giving the fans something to cheer, that’s going to be the main goal for us. The fans have waited a long time to see us in the Champions League so to get a home win would be special and something the fans definitely deserve.

“We have to learn what worked and what didn’t work. With the home fans behind us we can create even more against Ajax and should make for a positive result.

Positives are in short supply for Rangers at present and defeat against Alfred Schreuder’s Ajax side would mean they equal, or potentially surpass the record for the worst ever group stage campaign previously set by Dinamo Zabreg in the 2011/12 season.

However, Sands was encouraged by the chances they created in the second half against Serie A leaders Napoli, who he reckons are capable of reaching the latter stages of this year’s Champions League.

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The 22-year-old said: “They’ve (Napoli) certainly proved so far they’re one of the strongest teams in the competition, but the best team doesn’t always win the Champions League and we’ve seen that year after year.

“They’ll be up there but I can’t say they’ll win it for sure. It is frustrating for us as a team. You never want to lose 3-0. Having said that, there were more positives from Wednesday night than in the previous fixtures.

James Sands of Rangers challenges Tanguy NDombele of NapoliJames Sands of Rangers challenges Tanguy NDombele of Napoli
James Sands of Rangers challenges Tanguy NDombele of Napoli

“It is all about taking what we can learn from these experiences and using them in the league. These are the best players in the world so the fact that we are stringing together passess and creating good chances shows that if we can do it against them we can do it against anyone.

“It is definitely something that we can learn from. These are the top teams and any chance you give them they will score from it. We had a little trouble closing out the wide areas, maybe gave them a little too much time to serve the crosses.

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“But we adjusted well in the second half and limited the chances they had. I am sure it still can be a positive season. We are a locker room full of winners. When we lose a game like that 3-0 you are never happy. But there are two ways you can look at it. You can sit there and sulk or you can try and take something away from it. That has kind of been the message from the boss. It is something we will try to implement going forward.”

Before executing those lessons when Ajax arrive in Glasgow next Tuesday, the Light Blues must switch their focus back to domestic matters ahead of a crucial cinch Premiership clash with Aberdeen this weekend.

Rangers' US midfielder James Sands takes part in a team training sessionRangers' US midfielder James Sands takes part in a team training session
Rangers' US midfielder James Sands takes part in a team training session

Following a 1-1 draw at home to Livingston last week, the Gers are now four points adrift of rivals Celtic with little margin for error in the title race, even at this early stage in the season.

Sands declared: “It will be very important to do that, but first we have Aberdeen on the weekend which is a massive game for us in the league and we will be focusing on that before Ajax. The games are happening every couple of days, so everybody needs to be ready to step up and we need three points on Saturday, so we will all build towards that.

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“It was a disappointing match for us (against Napoli). Any time you lose 3-0 it is tough to take and we dug ourselves a bit of a hole early on. You cannot concede two goals to a team like that in 15 minutes.”

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