Rangers’ humiliating elimination by Luxembourg’s Progres Neiderkorn in a Europa League qualifying round in 2017 was a major factor in the club recording losses of more than £14m in their most recently published annual accounts. The 2-0 victory over the same opponents at Ibrox on Thursday means that a similar outcome should be avoided this time around but a more significant defeat earlier in the week has ramped up the pressure on manager Steven Gerrard and his players to repeat last season’s achievement of reaching the group stage of the competition.

Gerrard’s team exceeded expectations and, although they subsequently won only one of their six games against Rapid Vienna, Spartak Moscow and Villarreal, being there was enough for Rangers to announce (albeit unaudited) profits of £5.2m for the final six months of 2018. Increased costs on the footballing side are likely to see them post yet another annual loss, however, and the need for additional revenue is greater now than at any time since 2011.

Back then, Rangers faced a massive bill from HMRC and desperately needed the cash from continental competition to keep the lights on. However, Ally McCoist’s team was eliminated from the Champions League by Malmo and Maribor prevented them from progressing in the secondary competition, plunging them into administration and then liquidation later that season.

Charles Green’s newco was admitted to the fourth tier in 2012 and has subsequently boasted the second-highest wage bill in Scotland without ever turning a profit. Chairman Dave King, who usurped the previous regime in March, 2015, admits that his club is deliberately run at a deficit in an attempt to compete with Celtic but losing their latest court battle with Mike Ashley over their breach of contract with his Sports Direct International company could have far-reaching ramifications.

Rangers paid Ashley £3m last year to terminate a contract King regarded as onerous, while simultaneously signing a new agreement which stipulated that SDI must be allowed to match any bid from rival companies seeking to market strips and merchandising.

Rangers then entered into a three-year, £10m deal with kit manufacturers Hummel/Elite without informing SDI. Judge Lionel Persey this week found in SDI’s favour this week, announcing that they must be recompensed by Rangers for lost revenue in 2018/19 as well as the current campaign and that Rangers cannot work with Hummel/Elite in 2020/21 without first offering SDI the opportunity to match their terms. That, in turn, could leave the club open to being sued by Hummel/Elite.

The verdict, which Rangers will appeal, has the potential to cost them around £10m in legal fees and compensation. Failure to overturn that decision (and Judge Persey’s ruling was comprehensive) would see them lose more than a quarter of their turnover.

King and his directors reduced their exposure to Financial Fair Play penalties earlier this year by converting loans into equity but that also had the effect of diluting the value of shares in the club. Rangers are unlikely to attract further investment (or top-drawer kit manufacturers) while Ashley’s stranglehold on their operation remains intact.

With their ability to generate money from their retail division limited by the contracts they entered into with Ashley, Rangers crave the income stream the Europa League provides. Entry to the group phase would ensure seven additional capacity crowds at Ibrox which are not included in season-ticket books, not to mention the remuneration from UEFA for advancing to that stage.

They now seem certain to have at least three but FC Midtjylland, who re-signed centre-back Erik Sviatchenko from Celtic for £1m last year, will be a tougher proposition in the next round. In 2015/16 they beat Southampton in a Europa League play-off before qualifying from a group which included Napoli, Club Brugge and Legia Warsaw and then defeated Manchester United at home before eventually being eliminated in the round of 32. Should Rangers prevail then Wolves are among the more formidable adversaries they could meet in the play-offs.

At the club’s AGM in November, 2017, King confessed that the possibility of Rangers ever breaking even is dependent on European football.

“The only way we can be self-reliant is to have annual success in Europe,” he said. “The only way that we feel we are sufficiently resourced is to be reasonably sure that we get into the Europa League, get to the knock-out stages and, occasionally, the Champions League.”

Celtic, meanwhile, will meet either CFR Cluj or Maccabi Tel Aviv in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, which guarantees a minimum of an extra £30m boost for clubs reaching the competition proper, 10 times the reward for participation in the Europa League.

Last season Rangers’ average league attendance was an impressive 49,534. However, Celtic Park’s greater capacity saw them record average crowds of 57, 471. Over a Premiership campaign that amounts to an extra 150, 803 people attending their fixtures; at an average of £20 per ticket, that alone provides them with an automatic £3m advantage over their closest rivals.

Celtic also benefit from a successful commercial and retail department and the value of Neil Lennon’s squad is also considerably higher than Gerrard’s, with no bids yet received for Alfredo Morelos or James Tavernier.

In spite of missing out on the Champions League bonanza last season, Celtic still posted profits in excess of £15m and were able to reject Arsenal’s offers for Scotland full-back Kieran Tierney.

Rangers fans are desperate to prevent Celtic, who have been champions for the last eight seasons, from setting a new record of 10 in a row and four months ago King stated that the club was within “tangible reach of becoming the dominant force in Scotland.” His latest legal reverse suggests otherwise.

Unlike 2011, failure to travel deeper into European competition is unlikely to trigger another insolvency event; at the very least, though, it will severely hamper their ability to overtake Celtic.