Rangers‘ dismal week went from bad to worse on Wednesday evening, as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men slipped to a second successive 4-0 defeat away at Dutch giants Ajax, having been humbled by Old Firm foes Celtic just a few days earlier.
The Glasgow side had seemingly gone into that clash at the Johan Cruyff Arena looking for a response following their derby day humiliation, although were ultimately outclassed once again as Alfred Schreuder’s men produced a brutal, first-half display.
One notable concern in that gruelling loss – in what was the Gers’ first Champions League group stage outing in over a decade – was the performance of 22-year-old James Sands, with the United States international was again looking uncomfortable at the heart of the backline.
A defensive midfielder by trade, the on-loan youngster has been somewhat forced into that role due to the injury absence of both John Souttar and Ben Davies, although it would appear to be an experiment that needs to come to an end such have been his failings of late.
After having been found out against the Hoops at Parkhead at the weekend, the New York-born dud again looked out of his depth in Holland, notably allowing Edson Alvarez to head home early on, while also deflecting Steven Berghuis’ first-half effort into his own net in what was a wholly unconvincing performance.
The seven-cap prospect failed to make a single tackle in his 90-minute outing and recorded a fairly dismal 77% pass accuracy rate, with former Ibrox star Calvin Bassey having looked far more assured for the opposition in a left centre-back berth on the night – losing possession just five times from his 150 touches.
Pundit Mark Hateley had previously suggested that Sands was something of a “problem” in that role during the defeat to Union Saint-Gilloise at the start of August, with Van Bronckhorst needing to heed that warning by finally dropping the struggling figure from his side ahead of Saturday’s clash with Aberdeen.
The Dutchman already has a perfect solution waiting in the wings for a more prominent role, with teenage star Leon King seemingly deserving of a regular run in the side having impressed off the bench in midweek.
A rare shining light on an otherwise grim evening, the 18-year-old centre-back looked composed after entering the fray in place of skipper James Tavernier, lining up on the right of a back three in what was an attempt to prevent any further damage.
The academy graduate – who has previously been dubbed a “Rolls Royce” by pundit Alan Hutton – notably made three tackles and recorded two interceptions in what was an encouraging display amid the overall horror show.
The Glasgow-born colossus has made just 13 senior appearances for the club in his embryonic career thus far, although there could well be no better time for him to be thrust into the starting lineup amid the current doom and gloom.
Seeing a youth product thrive could well provide some much-needed positivity, while King no doubt has the talent to be a real asset for the side, particularly with teammate Sands currently looking so woefully devoid of confidence.