Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke has instructed his back four not to respond to any kind of physical intimidation from Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos when the clubs meet at Rugby Park tomorrow night.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard recently claimed that his leading goalscorer is regularly “kicked from pillar to post” while Mark Allen, the director of football at Ibrox, has called for more protection from officials for the front man.
Clarke, though, believes that the 22-year-old is as guilty of dishing it out as he is of being on the wrong end of over-physical opponents.
In the last match before the winter break, Morelos escaped punishment from referee John Beaton when tangling with Scott Brown, Ryan Christie and Anthony Ralston.
The £2m signing from HJK Helsinki has also been booked 18 times and sent off on three occasions at home and abroad this season and Clarke does not want his players to end up picking up cards by responding to rough treatment from Morelos.
“I have told my defenders to be careful because Morelos might be looking after himself,” said Clarke. “I have told them to be careful not to get involved with him. I think recent games and incidents have shown that Morelos can handle himself and, if he is looking after himself, my players need to be careful.”
It remains to be seen whether Gerrard will persevere with a lone striker up or pair Morelos with new signing Jermain Defoe, but Clarke, pictured, will plan for either option. “Jermain is a really good player,” he said. “Defoe is terrific. You don’t need to talk him up because his record speaks for itself. He and Morelos up front will be an interesting combination.”
Kilmarnock have lost just twice in six meetings with Rangers under Clarke, who pointed out that the £35,000 Rangers are reportedly paying towards loan signing Jermain Defoe’s £130,000 weekly wage from parent club Bournemouth is more than his entire squad earn between them.
“I think the fact Rangers can bring in Defoe puts in context how much we are punching above our weight,” he said.
“The bigger clubs have always had more money to spend but we have assembled a group of players here who’ve shown they can be competitive, no matter the budget. We’re not the only team who do it; St Johnstone, Motherwell and other clubs in the league have done it. That’s the way Scottish football is. We have improved since I’ve been here. When I came in, I had no pre-conceived ideas about the squad and I didn’t know what I was getting. What I had was a talented group who needed a bit of direction. Since then we have done okay.
“The incentive for us against Rangers is to keep our consistency going. If we get a point, it would be good, but, if we get three, that would be great. We’ve worked well in January and we’re ready to tackle the next part of the season until the famous split. We’re looking to get as many points as we can until then and then we will see where we are and what our targets are.”
Northern Ireland winger Jordan Jones, who signed a pre-contract agreement earlier this month which will see him join Rangers on a Bosman during the summer, will face his soon-to-be new employers tomorrow but Clarke stressed he has every faith in the player’s professionalism and does not anticipate him being anything other than committed to Killie’s cause.
“For me, I would look at it that Jordan can now go and express and enjoy himself for the last four months of the season,” he said. “He can try to play to his highest level, which he’s done consistently since I came here. If he can do that, then he’ll move to his next club in a better frame of mind.”