THE three months since the Europa League draw was made have been very different for Rangers and Braga. Form and fortunes have changed, but the significance of the tie for both sides has not.

While Steven Gerrard searches for the magic touch to improve Rangers’ performances and results, Ruben Amorim has already worked his spell with Braga after being appointed as manager in December.

His side may not be in with a chance of winning the Primeira Liga, but he has transformed them from mid-table mediocrity into European contenders. The class and quality that has always been within their ranks has now come to the fore.

The same, of course, can’t quite be said of Rangers. Gerrard’s side have seen their title ambitions deflated and the mood amongst supporters is far less optimistic on the eve of the first leg than it was when Braga and Rangers were the last two balls pulled from the hat for the last 32 ties.

“It is amazing how things change so quickly,” former Ibrox midfielder Kevin Thomson said.

“When the draw was made, you do a bit of research into Braga and they were going through a stuffy time.

“But now they have only been beaten once in 11 games and they beat Benfica at the weekend. They have had big results against Sporting and Porto and beaten good teams so it will certainly be tough.

“But I do think that the form that the boys have been in in Europe, the way the team have performed in Europe and the backing of the Ibrox crowd, I have no doubt that the boys can get a good result.

“One thing I do know, cliché or not, is that they need to stay in the tie with a positive result. Braga will be the same and they will want a result to take into the second leg.

“The Ibrox crowd is great, but there will be bad passes, bad touches, will be times when things aren’t going for you. If the crowd can get right behind the players and appreciate the good passes, the attempts on goal, good defensive cover, if they get behind those small things it can make a massive difference for the boys.”

Thomson was no stranger to the European nights under the Ibrox floodlights and those very occasions have brought out the best in many Rangers players this term.

Gerrard restored Rangers’ reputation on the continent by taking his side into the group stages last season. His second crack at the competition has been even more impressive as the Gers beat Feyenoord and Young Boys to qualification from Group G alongside Porto.

“I think the biggest thing for me, having looked on from afar and analysing how they have done, has been Alfredo Morelos,” Thomson said. “You can play a lone striker and he has the ability to occupy a back four on his own.

“Sometimes team have to gamble more players forward to try and hurt opposition and score a goal but Rangers have Alfredo that can handle a back four and then others can support when necessary.

“I think back to Jean-Claude Darcheville or Kenny Miller, those type of players that are busy and that are a handful, not just for one defender but for two or three and that then creates other space on the pitch.

“I think Alfredo has been key and that is not doing any of the boys a disservice because some of them have been terrific and some of the performances have been top drawer, no more so than Allan McGregor with some of the crucial saves he has made at big moments.

“He might not have seen a lot of the ball but then he comes up with a big save. Allan and the back four are going to need to be at their best to give the boys in front a foundation and Alfredo will be key to any success going forward.”

The chances of Rangers repeating the feats of Thomson and his team-mates 12 years ago and reaching the Europa League final this season look somewhat remote right now.

But the Academy coach has no doubt that Rangers are still capable of making an impression in the competition as they prepare to welcome Braga on Thursday evening.

Thomson said: “The manager and his analysis and sports science team are firm on us in the Academy in that he wants robust players, he wants players that can play 90 minutes at the weekend and then play again in midweek and the following weekend. We try to stretch our boys as much as we can to try and replicate that and have that robustness in them.

“One thing I do know about the manager is that when he gets his tried and tested formula he likes to stick to it. He has been brave to leave people out and try different things when they have had disappointments in recent weeks so it will be interesting to see what team he picks.

“The one that he will picks will be one he feels he trusts and then ultimately it is up to the boys that get those jerseys to stay in the team and try and get the club back to where it belongs.”