An axiom often spouted about playing for one of Scotland’s two most scrutinised footballing franchises is that judgments won’t be made on the basis of playing well in nine out of 10 games, but any foibles detected in the 10th. Connor Goldson could reflect bitterly on that being so as he prepares for his most important afternoon in Rangers colours.
The centre-back has had a good season. On Wednesday, though, he didn’t have a good night, at fault as Steven Gerrard’s men threw away a two-goal advantage to draw at Pittodrie. The fall-out has been incendiary, as his partnership with Filip Helander, pictured, has been cited as a weakness that Celtic could exploit when the rivals go toe-to-toe in this afternoon’s League Cup final.
Never mind that the pair strolled through a 5-0 demolition of Hearts days earlier… or that the pair have been important to the drive for qualification to the Europa League group stages – which requires a draw at home to Young Boys on Thursday.
“I tend not to read anything, high or low,” said the 26-year-old Englishman. “If you’d asked someone on Sunday, after we’d played Hearts ‘who is the best partnership’ I’m sure it would have a different answer to after Wednesday. You deal with it. The magnitude at this football club, no-one is immune from criticism. You make a mistake and everything is magnified on you.
“But I have a family I go home to every single day after a match and every day after training. They keep me away from football. I try and do my best. I’m a human being and I do every single thing in my power to perform well and help Rangers win games of football. Whether that’s preparing or recovering or doing things in the gym, eating well.
“I know that I can look at myself in the mirror and I know I do everything right. If I have a bad game, if I make mistakes, it’s due to me being a human being and not being the best central defender in the world, which I know I’m obviously not. But, over the course of a season, I try to limit them as much as I can and stay as professional as I can. As long as I can go back after every game and look at myself in the mirror then I’ll try not to listen to anything that comes from the other side.”
The other side of the coin is that Goldson has played a central role in Rangers feeling they can take on an all-conquering Celtic as equals, despite no major trophy arriving at Ibrox since 2011. He believes they have made huge strides since failing to live up to that status in the clubs’ first meeting – a 2-0 win for Neil Lennon’s men at Ibrox three months ago he says was “a game of hardly anything” apart from a “mistake” he believes he made that gave way to the opener.
That belief leaves him with no “fear” over what he says will be the biggest game of his career. He fully understands the context of the final, which is a different type of derby because of the 50-50 ticket split compared to the tiny away supports at league encounters.
“This is what this team have been brought together for over the past 18 months,” he said. “We all want to bring success to this football club. We have all been waiting for days like this to come along. We have a massive chance to do what we have been planning for for a long time. There is a lot of hunger and a lot of excitement. I’m sure before kick-off there will be a lot of nerves. But, that can help. Nervous energy usually brings the best out of you as a football player. We go into it with confidence. Wednesday night was a bump in the road but if you look at the bigger picture we are on a good run, with one league defeat in 15 games and 12 wins.
“This club and these fans have been waiting a long time for success, nine years without a major trophy and this squad have been assembled to bring that in. I think we have a great chance. It is a cup final and anything can happen but we go in with huge belief.”
The price of defeat would be more sneering, of the sort dished out this week by former Celtic striker and now BT pundit Chris Sutton when describing Rangers captain James Tavernier as “a serial loser”.
“I don’t even want to say anything,” Goldson said. “This is basically just a question waiting for a headline, isn’t it? I think it’s poor when ex-professional footballers come out these days and slate people. They know how hard it is to do the job.
“Fans? You accept it. They’ve never been footballers. They don’t know the pressure and the hard work. They think it’s an hour-and-a-half of training each day and what a life it is, but there’s pressure you’re under and the hard work you do every single day. When you leave the training ground you constantly have to care about what you eat, what you do, what time you sleep. Everything is a routine.
“For ex-professional footballers to come out and scrutinise players so they get a headline, I think it’s poor. I wouldn’t do it. I don’t come out and slate any other players while I’m still playing, and won’t when I’ve finished playing. I think it’s poor from him but, as I said, he’s done it to get a headline and I don’t want to say anything that’s going to get me a headline.”