There are two distinct Rangers this season because there is only one player in their ranks as influential as Alfredo Morelos. For worse and better, both sides of the Ibrox team’s character were on show as Steven Gerrard’s side moved into second place in the Premiership with an uneven display, and a scoreline that flattered them.
The bumpy element on the performance against Scottish football’s great indefatigables came with the Colombian on the bench – to prevent his “overloading”, according to his manager. Livingston, a goal down, spent the early period of the second half pushing for an equaliser that an increasingly brittle home team looked like they might well cough up. Cue the 62nd minute introduction of Morelos and the smooth transformation of Gerrard’s team. He scored his 16th goal of the season, picked up his sixth booking of the campaign and weighed in with an assist. A scene-stealing cameo, it demonstrated once more the compelling edge Morelos brings to Rangers.
The player is an individual who could nark his way to the gallows; his caution for refusing to come to heel for referee Nick Walsh as he was being spoken to for an altercation with Alan Lithgow means he will be suspended for the Ibrox club’s visit to Dundee in a fortnight. Gerrard was unequivocal is his desire to keep Morelos regardless of which suitors come along for the 22-year-old.
“I’ll fight tooth and nail to keep him here for as long as possible,” said the Rangers manager. “I’ll fall out with people to keep him here. That’s how much I like him. I love him and respect him but I also understand every player has his price. From day one I’ve told everyone I love him. That hasn’t changed, it’s growing. I want to keep him here as long as possible because he makes my job a lot easier.”
With Villarreal at Ibrox on Thursday for a potentially-decisive Europa League game and the club having four games in 12 days, Gerrard wanted his team to have an easy enough afternoon so that he could avoiding bringing on Morelos. Even after Daniel Candeias had headed the home team in front 20 minutes in when keeper Liam Kelly misjudged the flight of a Glenn Middleton corner, the afternoon did not pan out in such fashion.
Livingston, who hit the post through Lithgow inside 10 minutes, weathered Rangers’ pressure pre-interval to step up with passages of their own thereafter, creating a variety of goalmouth scrambles. It became a job for Morelos, who netted when he weaved inside from the right before burying a low drive past Kelly with typical aplomb. He then squared for Scott Arfield to complete the scoring late on.
“At 1-0 the game had a bit of a lull,” said Gerrard. “There wasn’t much happening and you had a top class player sitting behind you desperate to get on. Maybe he could provide the spark to put the game to bed and that’s what he did.
“We’re creating chances, he’s in a great place and he’s happy. He’s enjoying his work. I’m told by people it’s the happiest he’s looked, he recently signed a new deal. He’s just got to keep going. The key for us is to keep him healthy and try to avoid these yellow cards and the games will be there for him.”
Gerrard had no complaints about the latest caution picked up by Morelos, and in part accepted culpability for it. “I need to share some of that blame,” the Rangers manager said. “I’m asking him to be in people’s faces and to be aggressive and press and not stop short and really do what other centre-forwards do to our defenders. I’ll take a little bit of that blame. His performance for 30 minutes was superb. We’ve just got to enjoy him because he’s a top player.”
Gerrard, meanwhile, was more interested in relishing the three-point haul from yesterday than pondering the fact that another such haul away to a Hearts that lost again yesterday would place his team top of the table, with champions Celtic not in league action because of their participation in the Betfred Cup final.
“I don’t worry about Hearts’ results or anyone else’s results right now,” he said. “Today was about us
getting three important points. It will be a very difficult game at Hearts next week. Tynecastle will be bouncing, it’s very close to the pitch. They got beat today and I’m sure they’ll want to bounce back against Rangers.
“Today’s all about enjoying the result. It’s a big three points for us. Celtic asked us a question today[with their earlier win at Hamilton] and we’ve answered it.”