The term forgotten man was being bandied around about Rangers centre-back Gareth McAuley this week. The loss of four goals in Moscow – a match in which the 38-year-old Northern Irishman made his debut for the club as a last-gasp substitute – has now placed his name freshly in the minds of the team’s followers.
Spartak’s skewering of Rangers’ 11-game unbeaten run in the Europa League has thrown the focus on the club’s defending that was instrumental in them three times surrendering the lead in a 4-3 loss. With Joe Worrall left out following some uncertain moments in recent weeks, Nikola Katic was restored to the team to partner Connor Goldson in central defence.
The pair struggled, and when Motherwell visit tomorrow there will be a clamour for McAuley to be given a first start. Not least because Goldson has played 25 games already this season. That would seem bound to take its toll on a 25-year-old who played only 18 games for Brighton across the entire previous two campaigns.
“That’s the case for a lot of these players,” said Gerrard. “This is the squad we have put together. This is the reason the players have come to play as many games as they can – because they have been frustrated at other clubs or they haven’t been able to get a breakthrough. Connor is constantly in my face saying: ‘Don’t give me a rest, don’t give me a rest, don’t give me a rest.’ But there will be a time when I have got to help him. He won’t like that but it is my job. In terms of a lot of our players, all these experiences are new. Regular games, a European run.”
None of those experiences would faze McAuley, who was a stalwart for West Bromwich Albion and a Northern Ireland side prospering on the international stage up till this year.
“He is ready now,” said Gerrard of the September signing. “Obviously when he came in he had had a really big summer lay-off because he didn’t know where his future lay. He went away with Northern Ireland to try to get some volume of work in but came back with an injury which set him back. But he has been on the training pitch now for close to a month and we have put some games in his legs behind closed doors. I think he has played three 90 minutes now and another 45 on top of that. So he is available now. But we have four centre halves and they all knew what we were looking for at the start of the season. It is good to have him available and I would have no problem putting him in now, while a month ago he wasn’t ready.
“I think his experience can be valuable in certain situations. We know his strengths, we realise where he is in his career. He is a big Rangers fan who wanted this move. He realised it would be a squad player situation so he is professional and has been patient and there will be times when we need his experience and his knowhow. Maybe that might be from a beginning of a match or to see a game out, or against a certain opponent who might come and try to bombard us.”
Gerrard, pictured, accepts the Fir Park side might be such opponents, with the Englishman still annoyed at how his team failed to cope with the physicality of Stephen Robinson’s men in the 3-3 draw between the teams earlier in the season.
“I thought we were found wanting at set pieces and that’s why we dropped two points,” he said. Rangers will be without Lassana Coulibaly because the midfielder has returned home to Mali following a family bereavement.
Motherwell are looking to build upon consecutive wins over St Mirren and Dundee, which have eased them away from the bottom two.
David Turnbull was the stand-out in those victories with two impressive goals but Carl McHugh has also been influential and the midfielder feels his side can kick on.
“We are only ten games in and we still have such a great chance to go on and have a good season,” he said. “It’s about where you finish, not your start, and we are fully confident in the dressing room that we can kick on and finish the season well.”