Rangers suffered a fifth consecutive Champions League defeat at the hands of an accomplished Napoli, but escaped without any significant damage to their brittle confidence.
Giovanni Simeone’s brace in the opening 16 minutes had portended a chastening contest for the Scottish side, but the Serie A leaders would only add their third late on through Leo Ostigard.
Rangers, too, can take solace from the fact there is some slim arithmetic hope of prolonging their campaign into the new year after Liverpool beat Ajax.
That said, the Ibrox side would have to better the 4-0 margin meted out by the Dutch at the very start of this group stage when the two teams meet in Glasgow next Tuesday to reach their usual comfort zone of the Europa League.
Ajax, surely, won’t be as good as this Napoli side, though. Few in Europe are right now. Even with Luciano Spalletti exploring some of his lesser-heralded options, the Italians were playing a different game to their willing, but fatally ill-equipped, visitors.
And the way it started was entirely in keeping with a wretched campaign for the Ibrox side. A lapse in concentration 11 minutes in. Bang. Giovanni di Lorenzo slices a pass around Ben Davies and into the path of Giovanni Simone. Bang. The striker’s finish is ruthless.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst spoke pre-match of his side “collapsing” after conceding in recent times. The memories of Ajax and Liverpool remain raw.
Time to take a breath, keep your shape, don’t do anything daft. Don’t allow Mario Rui to flash a cross in from the left. Don’t allow Simeone to dart between two defenders and thump a header away from Allan McGregor.
Just 16 minutes gone and Rangers must have felt like they were in a washing machine. Tanguy Ndombele scudded one against the bar and Giacomo Raspadori had a couple of near things before, mercifully for the Scots, the assault dissipated.
Napoli returned to casually fizzing the ball between them, even generously allowing Rangers a turn now and again until the Scottish Premiership side inevitably gave it back.
Even when they did have a rare moment of promise, such as the sleight of foot that allowed Malik Tillman to burrow into the box on a couple of occasions or Alfredo Morelos’ snatched volley, they could not summon the insouciant quality that came so easily to their hosts.
The one time they did, Morelos should have scored but somehow allowed Ridvan Yilmaz’s teasing low cross to flash over his foot with the goal gaping. It would be his last act.
It was also Rangers’ last hope. Napoli – and Simeone – had gone close to a third a couple of times early in the second half, and moments after McGregor rescued his ragged defenders by denying Mario Rui, that goal came.
It was more prosaic than might have been expected, but there was still much to admire in the way Ostigard contorted his neck to snap a header past the helpless goalkeeper and secure a club-record 12th consecutive win.
The Rangers players were disconsolate but, given Liverpool gave them seven last time out and there were fears that Napoli could do the same, perhaps they will leave Italy thankful for small mercies.