Steven Gerrard has called for a “strong performance” from referee Kevin Clancy in Sunday’s crucial Premiership Old Firm showdown at Celtic Park, insisting the pressure attached to the fixture is no excuse for substandard decision making by the match officials.
Three weeks after his team lost to Celtic in the League Cup final at Hampden to a controversial goal he says was “wildly wrong”, Rangers manager Gerrard is hoping the latest clash of the great rivals passes off without any reason to bemoan the display of Clancy or his assistants.
Rangers were left with a sense of injustice in the cup final when what proved to be the only goal of the game from Celtic defender Christopher Jullien was not ruled out for offside.
This weekend will see Clancy take charge of only his second Old Firm fixture, having made his debut in relatively benign circumstances at the end of last season when he refereed Rangers’ 2-0 win at Ibrox after Celtic had already clinched their eighth successive league title.
Clancy did not completely avoid contentious moments, however, as the Scottish champions were left unhappy by his decision only to book Rangers full-back Jon Flanagan for an off-the-ball forearm clash on Celtic captain Scott Brown.
“You just hope before a ball is kicked that everyone is talking about the football after the game and not a decision that has been wrong and that affects the outcome of the game,” said Gerrard.
“I don’t think that is fair on both groups of players. I think the least we deserve is a good, strong performance from all the officials.
“I don’t think you can be (under more pressure) as an official in these Old Firm games. The pressure is there for everyone, for the players, for the coaching staff, the supporters bring pressure into the ground and it is no different for the officials.”
Gerrard is confident his team can repeat the impressive performance level they produced at Hampden as they look to cut into Celtic’s five point lead at the top of the Premiership.
“I do feel we are a different team than we were last year and I think the experience of last year has done wonders for us,” he added.
“The players came back for pre-season and you could see in their eyes there was a real hunger and determination to have a successful season.
“We did everything we could in the cup final to make that possible and I think the fans were very proud of the players’ efforts, I certainly was. But you know and I know that in cup finals you need a little bit of luck and to take your chances and we never did that.
“Obviously a big decision unfortunately went against us and there is nothing we can do to change that, we need to accept it. But you know and I know that the officials got it wildly wrong.”