GARETH McAuley was raised a Rangers fan and born on a street where the kerbs are painted “red, white and blue”. So if anyone should have known what he was letting himself in for when signing for the Ibrox club it was him.

High pressure football, after all, is hardly new to the 39-year-old, a veteran of European Championship finals with Northern Ireland and Premier League showdowns with West Bromwich Albion.

But as he sat within the bowels of the stadium after Rangers had seen themselves defeated by Aberdeen and toppled from the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership by Kilmarnock, he gave the impression that it was a bit like playing football on a different planet.

“It’s certainly different to clubs I’ve played at before,” admitted the 39-year-from Larne. “It’s intense but it’s enjoyable. It’s a good pressure, a great pressure. That demand to win, day in and day out, it’s what you should have as a footballer.

“Second is nowhere at this club - that’s it,” he added. “So we need to make sure we win on Sunday and win going forward. It’s a massive club and you have a massive responsibility on and off the pitch to make sure we win.

“We want to get back to the top of the league and stay there. Everyone here has the desire as a group to go and challenge.”

McAuley doesn’t automatically buy the idea that the additional pressure of having a place at the summit of the table to defend was responsible for an off-colour performance which got what it deserved against Aberdeen. As it happens, they could go back to the top of the table as soon as Sunday, as they take on struggling Dundee just 24 hours after Celtic take on Kilmarnock in a top-of-the-table encounter in which something has to give.

“I’m not sure,” said McAuley. “It was the first time in a long time the club had been top of the league. But we didn’t talk about that before the game. The focus was on winning the game. We knew what Aberdeen were going to do and they did it very well.

“They won a lot of free-kicks in the first half, put a lot of balls into the box and scored off one of them,” he added. “We were disappointed we didn’t defend that better. That’s why we are looking at our own performance as our own downfall. We were sitting in the dressing room looking at ourselves after the game. Our standards dropped individually and as a team. That’s why we lost the game.”

There was a feeling in some places at the start of a congested December that Rangers and Celtic might get through the month unmolested, setting the scene for an Old Firm meeting at Ibrox on December 29 which might go a long way to deciding the outcome of the league. On the evidence of last night, with Celtic and Rangers both dropping points, Kilmarnock moving top, and Aberdeen growing in menace, such an analysis is premature.

“From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a really competitive league,” said McAuley. “It’s a tough league, it’s tight. We know we have work to do.

“But bubbling under the surface we have that desire to do the hard work,” he added. “We’ll get back on the training pitch and hopefully put it right on Sunday.”

Things McAuley does have is experience in spades and discipline – he has booked just six times in the last three seasons. No wonder he has a point or two to make about the ill discipline which has seen the Ibrox side rack up no fewer than eight red cards already. If they continue to accumulate in this manner, then Rangers’ title challenge is likely to evaporate into thin air.

“He [Gerrard] has put a marker down that we need to be better as a group,” said McAuley. “Playing with 10 men, the number of times it has happened, can take its toll on the players - especially with the number of games some of the lads have played already.

“You lose important players for important games, you lose match winners for big games and that’s a frustration for all of us.”

The fall guy on Wednesday, for the third time this season, was Alfredo Morelos. “We are not pointing fingers or anything like that,” said McAuley. “But yeah, it made it tougher when Alfredo went off. He plays on the edge and has won us games before. The biggest disappointment is that we now lose him for a couple of games.”