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Danny Stewart: He may leave Rangers for nothing, but under-performing Ryan Kent will still have to pay his way

© Craig Foy / SNS GroupRyan Kent in action during the mauling in Amsterdam by Ajax
Ryan Kent in action during the mauling in Amsterdam by Ajax

Two years ago, Ryan Kent scored the only goal of the game at Pittodrie to set Rangers on a road that led to the Premiership title.

The moment – and what a moment it was, with the forward darting between two Dons centre-halves before coolly beating Joe Lewis – came to mind with Rangers scheduled to have been in the Granite City yesterday.

A photograph taken before the match shows a face-masked Ally McCoist – on duty as a TV pundit, walking pitchside as the players trained.

The backdrop is one of empty stands. Covid restrictions meant the match took place behind closed doors, with just a few media representatives allowed in as the exception to the rule.

Fast forward to 2022, and everything has changed.

Whereas Steven Gerrard’s team travelled to Pittodrie looking to get off to the perfect start to the season, yesterday’s fixture was seen as a massive examination of their prospects for the rest of this campaign.

Many even suggested a negative result would heap yet more pressure on Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s position.

Certainly, McCoist delivered a lacerating analysis of Kent and Co’s efforts in the 4-0 loss to Ajax last Wednesday night.

And, as in his playing days, Super Ally did not miss the target.

Kent, he said, had no excuses. Aside from a lacklustre performance, he had cost team-mate Borna Barisic his wonder goal in the Amsterdam Arena through “laziness”.

He agreed he was frustrated at the winger, “because he can play.” But yet again, Kent flattered to deceive.

McCoist is a popular pundit because he does not shy away for voicing his opinion and, in this case, the criticisms would strike a chord with those who have watched Kent’s performances for Rangers over the years.

Initially brought up on a season’s- long loan from Liverpool, he was signed on a £7-million permanent deal, with the apparent aim of developing his talent and then selling him on.

However, while the likes of Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo have gone on to vindicate the business model, Kent – despite earlier interest from Leeds United – remains where he is.

Now in the final year of his deal, there is a danger of him leaving for nothing next summer, which from the club’s point of view would be an aptly disappointing end to his time at Ibrox.

Patently he is not single-handedly responsible for the back-to-back 4-0 losses to Celtic and Ajax the Light Blues incurred in the space of four days.

But he does epitomise the team’s current shortcomings.

It is easy to see why Leeds, and others, took a look at the Englishman with a view to buying him.

On the ball, he is nothing if not easy on the eye. Smoothly picking up pace, he has the ability to glide past opponents as if they are not there.

All too often, however, the end product is not there.

After dropping his shoulder and cutting inside, he is blocked by an opponent savvy enough to have read his intentions.

Since last year’s title triumph, Kent’s tale has been one of diminishing returns.

That triumphant season, he chipped in with eight goals and nine assists in the Premiership from his 33 appearances.

But last term, he got just two goals and 10 assists in 24 outings as Rangers lost the league to Celtic.

This season is heading in the same direction right now, with zero goals and three assists from his first four league appearances.

Something has to be done, and it is tempting to think the manager’s perception of the winger as an automatic start, if fit, needs to shift to a position where he views him as someone who plays as long as he produces.

It might actually be in Kent’s best interests. At 25, and with an abundance of natural talent, his career should not be drifting along but be on an upward trajectory.

There is still plenty of time. But now is the moment to learn the lessons of his mistakes.