Pedro Caixinha admits Rangers do not deserve to finish as runners-up to Celtic if they cannot find a way to topple Aberdeen on Sunday.
The Ibrox boss watched his new team slip 12 points behind the Dons after a frustrating 0-0 draw away to Kilmarnock.
With just seven games remaining, time is running out for Gers to snatch second but they do still have to play Derek McInnes’ men twice – starting with this weekend’s Pittodrie encounter.
And Caixinha has now laid down the gauntlet to his team.
“It’s getting difficult,” admitted the Portuguese coach. “We know we need to play twice against Aberdeen and that they have to play against all of the top six again.
“The maths says it can still be done but the next game will be crucial to understand if you are able or not.
“If you don’t win Sunday against Aberdeen, you don’t deserve to be in second position. But that is my challenge. It is something we need to prove to ourselves.
“We are Rangers. We want to fight. At this moment, this is the challenge we need to try and fight for at the moment.”
Gers were largely on top at Rugby Park but, despite seeing a Joe Garner header hit the crossbar, they were held to an Ayrshire stalemate for the second time this season.
It came after Caixinha took the unusual step of naming his starting line-up a day early.
With five defenders missing he stayed true to his word and put out the same 11 he named during his pre-match press conference, with youngsters David Bates and Myles Beerman making their debuts.
Killie interim boss Lee McCulloch admitted he tinkered with his gameplan after learning of Caixinha’s team.
But the Gers manager insisted giving his players – especially his two academy graduates – his backing was more important than the element of surprise.
“Sometimes you might be bluffing but I am not a bluffing guy,” he stressed. “I need to give confidence to my team.
“That was the message for the opponents and for all of Scotland, but it was especially a message for our players to say that I am counting on you.
“It doesn’t matter which 11 we have. Let’s go to war.
“Would I do it again? If I need to do it, I will do it for sure.”
However, Caixinha was left deflated by the result, admitting: “It’s not enough, we are Rangers, we have a culture of winning and getting the three points all the time. So we cannot be happy drawing the game.
“We need to be reinforcing the players the demands of playing at such a massive club who needs to win all the time and we need to be angry when we don’t do it. We should be angry that we didn’t and that’s the frustration.”
McCulloch insisted he did not find Caixinha’s unorthodox move disrespectful but did mention it to his team before kick-off.
“I’ve never heard it being done in Scottish football,” said the former Light Blues captain. “I didn’t change my starting 11 but I used it in the dressing room, I used it in part of the team talk. But if a manager wants to name his team a day before a game he can.
“I wouldn’t do it, I wait until an hour and 15 minutes before the game to give it in to the referee. But I ‘d never be critical of another manager.
“First half I thought we were the better team, looked organised, caused them problems and they didn’t cause us any.
“Second half I thought Rangers came into it a little bit more, putting some crosses in the box and got some free headers. Second half was pretty even, so all in all I’m delighted and thought we were possibly the better team.”