Managers can sometimes come to regret the tone and content of comments they make in the immediate aftermath of an especially disappointing defeat.
But anyone expecting Steven Gerrard to ease back on the harsh assessment of his players following Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final loss to Aberdeen at Hampden clearly underestimated the sense of urgency the Rangers manager attaches to the job he has been given at Ibrox.
Gerrard may have signed a four-year contract when he took charge of the club but just four months into his tenure, he is already warning the squad he assembled in the summer that he won’t hesitate to replace them if they cannot address the substandard quality of their attacking play which cost them so dearly at the weekend. As he seeks an immediate and positive reaction from them in tonight’s Premiership fixture at home to Kilmarnock, Gerrard accepts that failure to achieve the improvements he is demanding will quickly place his own position in doubt.
“The business I am in now, it is cut-throat, it is brutal,” said Gerrard. “If we keep suffering setbacks and results like Sunday moving forward, I am not going to be here. You have to be blunt. It is cut-throat, that is the way it is. Don’t sign up for it, don’t come here if you are not prepared to cope with that responsibility and pressure. You shouldn’t be here.
“I watch the players closely and if they go into a shell, then they’ve got a problem because you shouldn’t be at Rangers if you go into a shell. It’s the wrong place. They can’t do it. There’s been too many players here of late that are prepared to go into that shell. We can’t have them round here. It can’t happen. I was quite clear and blunt in the press conference after the game on Sunday. That’s the way it is, we’re at a big club and big clubs require big players who step it up in big moments on big occasions. I thought our performance in general was pretty strong but there wasn’t enough in the final third of quality and we got done by a classic sucker punch against the run of play. It was frustrating.”
Gerrard will be boosted tonight by the return of strikers Alfredo Morelos and Kyle Lafferty who were both unavailable on Sunday. But he insists Umar Sadiq, who made his first starting appearance in the semi-final and scorned a chance to equalise when he opted to dive in a bid to win a penalty kick, should not be a scapegoat for the Hampden defeat.
“Listen, no-one gets the blame individually,” added Gerrard. “I will protect the players from that all day long. Umar put a good shift in physically. His numbers were sky-high in every department there. It was his first 90 minutes, so I have to analyse whether his body is ready to go again or whether we need to protect him. I’d pick the same team if I had Sunday over again. I knew we would create that big moment. I thought the game would be really tight and really close. I expected us to create a bit more, but I had confidence from what I had seen from Umar in training that he would get that moment, that chance. Unfortunately, he fluffed his lines.”
Gerrard has set his sights on maximum points from Rangers’ three league games before the next international break, starting tonight against Kilmarnock before Saturday’s trip to St Mirren and a home fixture against Motherwell on 11 November.
“That’s definitely a target,” he said. “We will start feeling better about ourselves if we put in a performance and get three points to take into the weekend. If you are talking about the next block in terms of our league fixtures, it is three really good opportunities for us to go and take maximum points. But the focus at the moment is Kilmarnock. I know Steve Clarke well, he will have Kilmarnock well drilled. He’ll want us to start slow, want our crowd to get frustrated. We have to counter that by starting well, starting quick and really getting after Kilmarnock and play on the front foot, because we have had a lot of joy and success at Ibrox by doing that.”