SINCE play resumed after the winter shutdown last month, Rangers have laboured to a win over part-time Stranraer, struggled to narrow and unconvincing triumphs against Hibernian, St Mirren, Ross County and Livingston, been unable to beat Aberdeen and lost to both Hearts and Kilmarnock.

The play which took them through to the last 32 of the Europa League and saw them deservedly defeat Celtic at Parkhead to move within touching distance of top spot in the Ladbrokes Premiership has seldom been witnessed.

So what chance do they have, given their recent difficulties, of overcoming a Braga team who have, in stark contrast, impressed in Portugal in recent weeks and go into the match this evening on the back of a win over league leaders Benfica away?

Tonight’s tie would seem to be a far-from-ideal fixture at an inopportune moment against formidable opponents. Rangers’ prospects of progressing appear slim to say the least.

Yet, Steven Gerrard believes the encounter with Ruben Amorim’s side could actually help his men to rediscover the spark which has often been missing from their displays. He firmly believes they are at their best when they “fear” their opponents. Their performances and results against the likes of Legia Warsaw, Feyenoord, Porto and Young Boys in recent months back up his view.

“We know we are playing the best team in Portugal right now, the form team,” he said. “This is a team that has just beaten Porto in a cup final, just beaten Benfica away and also beaten Sporting Lisbon of late.

“They are the form team and one we have a lot of respect for. But having watched them and analysed them, there are areas of their game where we believe we can go and hurt them.

“So it’s a case of us trying to rediscover our best. And I think tomorrow night is a perfect opportunity to bring our best. Because if we do, I believe we can get the result we want. It is definitely going to be a very tough fixture. We’re definitely the underdogs in this fixture, but I’m totally fine with that.

Rangers scouting reports have revealed that Braga play with five at the back and are deadly on the counter attack. But opponents who beat Wolves, Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava away in the Europa League group stages should still be far less defensively-minded than their domestic rivals. That could work in the home team’s favour.

“It’s a huge challenge over both legs, but there’s none of us that are relaxed and enjoying this,” said Gerrard. “We’re focused, we’re ready and we’ll only enjoy this if we get through. Can we do it? Yes, we can.

“We have to rediscover our top form and levels to go through. But there certainly seems to be a real focus and look and determination about the players.

“I have noticed about this group that when they are in that underdog situation or they maybe fear an opponent in the right way – where they have that ultimate respect for someone – it seems to really galvanise us and bring us together to find our best. I hope that’s going to be the case again tomorrow.

“I’m not sure I’ve given you the right word in ‘fear’, but the players realise that us not at our best won’t be good enough to qualify through this game, so there seems to be a different focus about them since we came back a couple of days ago.”

The return of Borna Barisic, the Croatian right back who has missed two games due to a hip injury, will increased Rangers’ hopes of beating Braga greatly. Gerrard admitted the defender, whose eye-catching performances on the continent this term attracted the attention of Roma, is important to how his team plays.

"Borna has done the majority of yesterday's session and has also done today's session with no problems,” he said. “Assuming he has no issues, he will be available for selection.

"We've missed him. He's not only a fantastic player and a player who is on form, but he's a player our system relies heavily upon. We like to play with real bold, attacking full backs who get into position to cross the ball and his delivery from the left side this season has been fantastic. So to have him back available is a huge boost.”

The dire state of the playing surface at Ibrox after days of heavy rain isn’t conducive to how Gerrard wants his team to play. But the visitors trained at the Hummel Training Centre last night to protect it from suffering further damage. The Rangers manager won’t use the pitch as an excuse for a poor performance or result.

"You have to adapt and be ready for it,” he said. “It's the reason why we've kept Braga off the pitch tonight. It happened to us last year in Vienna. They wouldn't let us use the pitch because of the condition and the weather.

"We want the pitch to be in the best possible place it can be at. We all know it's not in great shape at the moment. The groundsmen are working tirelessly to try to get it in the best condition it can be and it could play a part in the game, depending on the weather. It certainly did at the weekend.

"It was heavy underfoot. The players were saying at the end of the game that they could really feel how soft it was. But both sets of teams are going to have to deal with the pitch the best way they can."

Gerrard continued: "It won't affect my team selection. We have to take it into consideration, but I don't think it will have an impact on the scoreline. I don't think it's that bad. It's still playable and we still managed to play some real good stuff at times on it at the weekend.

"It's not at a stage where it's too bobbly or you can't pass on it. You can still play the ball on the floor and it's probably not as bad as it looks on the eye."