Alan Pattullo: Making sure Alfredo Morelos is available for Rangers is Steven Gerrard’s greatest challenge

Alfredo Morelos has bailed out his teammates on enough occasions in Europe this season. It’s probably only fair they returned the favour by ensuring he was not the headline yesterday morning.
Rangers’ Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos exchanges words with referee Xavier Estrada. Picture: Craig Foy/SNSRangers’ Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos exchanges words with referee Xavier Estrada. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Rangers’ Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos exchanges words with referee Xavier Estrada. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

The striker will miss Wednesday’s second leg in Braga through suspension. It’s not the most shocking news. But it would have dominated reports had Rangers – with Morelos’ help, to be fair – not staged a miraculous recovery.

Heading to Portugal to retrieve a deficit without your chief goalscorer would have been a tall order. Going there to defend a 3-2 lead will be hard enough.

Morelos’ absence feels so utterly unnecessary.

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The Colombian did not pick up a fateful booking because of a mistimed tackle or any other offence that’s an occupational hazard of being a fully committed footballer in such a physical arena. Rather, 
it was for speaking back to the 
referee. Dissent.

It possibly didn’t help his cause that the referee on this occasion was Spanish, and therefore alert to the nature of the verbal volley that was aimed his way. Sadly, nothing was lost in translation in this instance.

Not that it felt terribly significant at the time. Rangers looked like they were going to render the second leg utterly meaningless by going down heavily at home to Braga.

But then something quite extraordinary happened – and Morelos, although he did not score, played his part. He did not give the Braga defence a moment’s peace. Admirably, he kept on going even though he knew his booking meant he would miss what is now Rangers’ biggest game of the season to date.

The player is currently enduring what for him is a goalscoring drought – just one goal in eight appearances. But then it’s impossible to score if he isn’t playing, as will be the case on Wednesday in Portugal. His conduct is more frustrating given he knows Rangers are so light in attack due to 
Jermain Defoe’s injury.

Rangers assistant manager Gary McAllister sounded slightly exasperated yesterday as he reflected on the one negative aspect to the previous night’s drama. However, he vowed to stand by the player.

“We will keep at him and keep nipping his ear,” he said. “These moments have got to… he has got to rid them from his game. (But) We have got to stay with him.”

McAllister stressed that Morelos insists he is trying to learn to curb his ways and stop letting frustration get the better of him.

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“He does acknowledge it and he will put his hand up and say: ‘I want to get better, I want to get better,’” added McAllister. “He is aware. We have all spoken to him. The lads have spoken to him, all the management staff have got to keep at Alfredo.”

That senior players are seeking to keep Morelos on the straight and narrow was confirmed by Scott Arfield – but there’s only so much they can do. “It’s the manager’s domain,” said the midfielder. And it is. As he weighs up what to do up front in Braga next week, Gerrard will be sorely aware that this Morelos conundrum – how to ensure his star player is available – remains his greatest challenge.