Curve balls and flipped formation - Steven Gerrard explains his passionate celebrations after Rangers' table-topping win over Hibs

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard insists he makes ‘no apology’ for his exultant display of emotion at the end of his team’s 2-1 win over Hibs at Ibrox on Sunday.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard was in ebullient mood after the full-time whistle of his team's 2-1 win over Hibernian at Ibrox on Sunday. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard was in ebullient mood after the full-time whistle of his team's 2-1 win over Hibernian at Ibrox on Sunday. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

After a trying first couple of months of the 2021-22 season, which has seen his team significantly disrupted by a combination of selection issues, Gerrard clearly relished the manner in which the Scottish champions ensured they go into the latest international break at the top of the Premiership table.

His vigorous interaction with the Rangers supporters as he walked across the pitch to engage those in all four stands left no-one in any doubt as to how vital a victory he considered it to be.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting emotional,” said Gerrard. “I really enjoyed our performance in a top of the table clash against a really strong team.

Rangers midfielder John Lundstram earned praise from manager Steven Gerrard for his Man of the Match display against Hibs. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

“Listen, the support, the players, the staff - we are going to need each other to lift each other over the course of the season, so that was the reason I wanted to show a bit of emotion. No apology for that.”

For all of the difficulties Rangers have found in trying to reach peak form since the campaign began, they are only one point worse off from their opening eight league fixtures compared to last season when they ultimately romped their way to the title.

Perhaps even more pertinent than the one-point lead they have over second-placed Hearts, who visit Ibrox in the first match after the international break, is their six-point advantage over a Celtic team who would still be expected to present the biggest challenge to their crown.

At the same stage of the title race last year, Celtic were only a point adrift of Gerrard’s men and with a game in hand.

Midfielder Scott Arfield missed Rangers' league game against Hibs because of illness. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

“It’s still early days,” added Gerrard. “We can still improve and get better. We can still tweak, we will keep pushing and driving the team forward.

“But we have to think it’s a positive place to be in, considering we haven’t got into our top gear or we haven’t found that spark or bit of life that a lot of people keep mentioning.

“I appreciate that and understand it but we have had to deal with a lot of different things - injuries, suspensions, Covid.

“The plan was to have Scott Arfield back in the team (against Hibs) but he’s picked up an illness from his daughter from school, not Covid-related.

“What we have found as a staff and what I’ve certainly found this season is curve balls coming at you left, right and centre. You’ve got to adapt and try and deal with that. As a team and a squad, we are (dealing with it) because we are in the place we want to be. But we can still get better and that’s the positive from my point of view.”

Gerrard’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which saw an advanced midfield trio of Ianis Hagi, Joe Aribo and Scott Wright supporting central striker Alfredo Morelos, saw Rangers dominate territory and possession against Hibs, even before the visitors were reduced to 10 men by the 30th minute dismissal of Ryan Porteous.

Hibs proved a tough nut to crack as they resiliently defended Kevin Nisbet’s eighth minute opener but Gerrard was thrilled by the physical commitment of his players as they ultimately prevailed with goals from substitute Kemar Roofe and Morelos.

“That’s what I saw my team do (leave it all out on the pitch),” he said. “I saw Ianis Hagi bent over, struggling to breathe. I saw Nathan Patterson going down with cramp. I see Scott Wright with three or four kicks, with ice all over his body (in the dressing room afterwards).

“Joe Aribo and Glen Kamara, I had to offload them because they looked jaded with the effort they put in last week.

“We flipped our formation to make it more aggressive, on the front foot. We never waited, we went after Hibs.

“Their goal was against the run of play but it was a fantastic goal from their point of view. We need to defend that situation better. But the majority of the game, the big picture, I was really happy with our performance.

“You say we were made to work hard for it but that was no surprise because Hibs have started the season strong, they’re in a good place. Jack has got them well drilled, they are a good footballing team.

“So we expected a tough challenge. It became a bit complicated when we conceded a goal after eight minutes but I think that was against the run of play.

“For the majority of the game we controlled it, we played some really nice football. We found our invention and variety in the final third, albeit against 10 men. But sometimes it’s harder against 10 men because they put more men behind the ball.”

Another plus point for Gerrard was the performance of John Lundstram. After a slow-burning start to his Rangers career, the former Sheffield United man is emerging as a more than able deputy for veteran Steven Davis in the centre of midfield.

“I thought he was outstanding,” said Gerrard. “John was rested in midweek (against Sparta Prague). Steven Davis went to the well for us, he ran hard (in that game). He’s 36 years of age and he’s now going to go and play big important qualifiers (for Northern Ireland).

“So it made sense (to start John against Hibs). We knew at some point we would need Davo’s control and maturity. But I’m not surprised John was named Man of the Match, I thought he was outstanding in everything he did.”

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