IT should have been the time to regroup, reset and refocus for Rangers. Instead, it must now become the time for change at Ibrox.

The World Cup break can no longer be the saviour for Giovanni van Bronckhorst and he is beyond the point of no return. The defeat to St Johnstone on Sunday will not prove to be his final match in charge, but it was the last setback that he could afford to suffer.

There is no way back now for Van Bronckhorst. The Dutchman has reached the end of the road as Rangers manager and the fixtures against Hearts and St Mirren in the coming days are irrelevant to his future and to the prospects of the players he will soon leave behind.

A seven-point deficit is not insurmountable but only those who have a glass that is three quarters full can believe deep down that this side are capable of catching and overtaking Celtic this season. Rangers have shown nothing so far to suggest a miracle will unfold.

Had Van Bronckhorst been able to reach the safe haven of the Premiership shutdown with a hat-trick of wins on the back of the victory over Aberdeen last weekend, he would have earned himself the opportunity to take stock and lead Rangers into the New Year.

Not now, though. The first anniversary of his appointment as manager falls on November 18 and it is increasingly difficult to see how Van Bronckhorst reaches that date still in his position.

If the gap had remained at four points, he and his backers could have made a case for a reprieve and a deep breath. That situation would have seen domestic results stabilise following the embarrassment and ignominy of the Champions League campaign and the mitigating factor of a crippling injury list could have been taken into account.

That straw becomes harder to clutch when the performances and results against Livingston and St Johnstone are put forward, though. These are games that Rangers simply have to win regardless of their status in the top flight, never mind at a time when they are fighting to remain in contention for the silverware.

Van Bronckhorst repeatedly highlighted the financial disparity between Rangers and their Group A conquerors - Liverpool, Napoli and Ajax - as his side finished pointless in the section and wrote their name in the history books for all the wrong reasons.

That argument is all fine and well in that European context. But it becomes another stick to beat the manager with when the situation is flipped and Rangers, with their soon to be posted record revenues, wage bill that is over budget and several million spent in transfer fees, look so bang average against teams with meagre resources.

Recent weeks have been a case of hoping that fortunes would turn rather than expecting them to. Van Bronckhorst's squad has been decimated, but he should still have been doing far, far better with what he has at his disposal.

A year into his reign, it is difficult to decipher just what his style of play is and how he wishes Rangers to look. The approach is boring and predictable, and has been for some time, and supporters have steadily lost faith in their manager, even when wins have been recorded.

It is a quite remarkable situation to be in just six months after Seville and Scottish Cup success but Rangers have been heading in this direction since the summer. At every juncture when a transformation has been needed, the problems have piled on rather than been alleviated.

Rangers are now at another such crossroads. A parting of ways with Van Bronckhorst is inevitable and it remains to be seen if chairman Douglas Park and Ross Wilson, the sporting director, are caught up in the fall out or choose to call time at Ibrox of their own accord.

Removing the manager from office will not solve all of the issues that plague Rangers in one. Greater alterations, both in terms of personnel and strategy, are required and it says much about the feelings of fans right now that Park, Wilson and Van Bronckhorst all find themselves in the firing line.

The gap of four weeks between the trip to St Mirren and visit of Hibernian is now the prime opportunity for change and Van Bronckhorst must become the first piece to fall if Rangers are to salvage the season. The title is all-but gone, but the cups remain there to be won as the rebuilding job for next term commences.

The opening provided by this mid-season World Cup is a unique one. It is a chance that Rangers cannot afford to pass up and there is no benefit in allowing Van Bronckhorst to stumble on when his side is performing as it is right now.

There has been a sense that Van Bronckhorst has been on borrowed time since Rangers followed up the humiliating Old Firm defeat with that 4-0 annihilation in Amsterdam. It is now a matter of when rather than if.

He should be thanked and always appreciated for the nights that will never be forgotten on the run to Seville and for delivering a long-awaited Scottish Cup triumph last term. But the Premiership failings in the second half of the campaign cannot be overlooked and Sunday felt like a tipping point as supporters gathered outside McDiarmid Park.

The decision will not be taken easily at Ibrox and it is one that will come with its own financial burden but the situation is such now that Rangers must not consider whether they can afford to sack Van Bronckhorst, but whether they can afford not to.

Avoiding making such a call will only prolong the agony for all concerned. Van Bronckhorst is a gentleman and has represented himself and the club well, so deserves better than death by 1000 cuts and a long goodbye.

The break has come too late for Van Bronckhorst to salvage the situation. It has arrived at just the right moment for Rangers to save their season and their skin.