A MIDWEEK fixture under the lights at Pittodrie is about as challenging a league debut as is possible at Rangers but James Sands made it through this first test relatively unscathed despite a disappointing team performance against Aberdeen.

The 21-year-old, who sealed a move from New York City in MLS earlier this month, was pitched into the frenetic and frenzied contest in the North East to gain his first taste of Scottish football.

The task awaiting him could have been daunting but if it was, the midfielder didn’t show it. Up against Scott Brown and Lewis Ferguson – two experienced, capable operators and one of the strongest midfield pairings in the Premiership – Sands did not look out of place as he jostled with the Aberdeen duo.

Ferguson won the first significant duel with Sands, with the Scotland internationalist cutely nipping in front of his opponent to draw a foul. After that, though, the American used his 6’3” frame well to shield the ball and was equal to the physical challenge that met him.

There was a touch of conservatism about the US internationalist’s play on the ball – safe, simple passes were the order of the day, rather than raking through balls designed to unlock the Dons defence.

How much of this was down to the hostile atmosphere, a reluctance to gift the ball away or tactical instruction – or a combination of all three – remains to be seen. The occasional neat pass in the final third suggested there is some potential here.

Off the ball, Sands’ positioning was tested more than his tackling ability. The front four of Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent, Ianis Hagi and Scott Wright pressed the Aberdeen defence when building up, leaving Sands to guard the space between the lines.

The occasional instruction from Connor Goldson was required but Sands looked to have got to grips with Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s system relatively quickly. A cynical challenge to bring down Jonny Hayes on the counter showed a willingness to embrace the game’s darker side, too.