“When I first came you could see he’d had a good summer,” said the Englishman. “But, he worked his socks off and he got rid of a lot of weight. He’s a player that works his socks off for 90 minutes for the team. He’s done that for 40-odd games, which is credit to him, the way he has looked after himself and the player he’s made himself into.
“From when I came in pre-season, the weight he has lost and the work he’s able to do in a game of football – that’s the difference for me. He’s naturally a strong boy. He’s not in the gym lifting weights all the time, that’s just natural. You look at the size of his legs, his bum, it’s huge. He has the frame of a grown man even though he’s just turned 22. I know he scored, I think 18 last season, but from the boy I saw when I first came here to Marbella to what he’s turned into now is a completely different player. That’s down to the way he’s worked physically and it’s all paid off for him. He’s missed a fair few games, but to have 28 goals by the end of February, there’s not many that can do that.”
Morelos’ absences from games have been, in part, linked to powderkeg Pittodrie clashes of which today’s Scottish Cup quarter-final at the Aberdeen ground is shaping up to be of the pyrotechnic variety. Morelos’ skirmishing with Scott McKenna ended with both being red-carded during the 4-2 win for Steven Gerrard’s men there last month. A kick at the same player in the first game of the season at the same stadium brought an instant dismissal that was later rescinded.
Steven Gerrard has stated his hopes that today’s encounter isn’t coloured by any red flashes from referee Kevin Clancy. Morelos has had three of these which have stood this season, but Goldson, pictured, who says the predator is “one of a kind”, wouldn’t attempt to curb the player’s enthusiasm. He does consider it might be difficult for two teams to avoid producing a contest that becomes a footballing equivalent of trench warfare.
“It’s hard. You don’t really want to take away the way that Alfredo plays football because it’s the way he’s been brought up to play,” said the defender. “If you take that away from him I don’t think he will be the player that he is. He’s had some silly moments over the season but as I’ve said before, we are never going to, as a team, hammer Alfredo when he’s now scored 28 goals and won us more points than he’s lost.
“I don’t think they will exactly target him but they are a physical side in general. Their back line is very physical and Alfredo is the same so it’s going to be a battle. He knows that and will be ready for it as well. When there’s physical players battling against each other in big games, sometimes it does boil over.
“We all know we’ve had too many red cards this season. I feel it’s been a bit better recently. But earlier it harmed the team in the long run with suspensions and injuries, playing so many minutes with ten or nine men. We know what we need to do. We know they will try to wind up certain individuals and we just need to be man enough not to do anything back and just to keep the head, keep the cool and stick to the game plan we are hoping to influence.”
Gerrard, like Goldson, acknowledges that emotions will be volatile. “Both sets of players will be fired up and I expect another physical encounter,” he said. “It’s very difficult to predict whether we can keep 11 men on the pitch. I’d never want to take the edge off one of my players. But it is something I’ll address before the game – that it’s important to be aggressive but disciplined. We have to compete but channel it in the right direction.
“It was a shame for the game to lose two players the last time. Scott and Alfredo had a hell of a battle that was great to watch. Hopefully all players will remain on the pitch and we’re talking about the football and not refereeing decisions. Any official going into a fresh game can’t be influenced by stuff in the past. That’s not going to help. I’m sure the referee will have the experience to control the fixture in the right way. But it’s a tough fixture because both sets of players are fired up – that’s the way it should be.”
Gerrard has respect for his opponents, not least Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie, for whom he made a beeline at the end of the recent 4-2 win to commend him on his display. The midfielder has recently been linked with a move to Ibrox, having failed to agree an extension to his current deal with the Pittodrie side, which is up at the end of the season
“I don’t want any unnecessary headlines before a game,” stressed Gerrard, before adding: “He’s a player I admire. He’s a good player, he’s done ever so well, he’s a leader, I’ve only got compliments for the player. I thought he played really well [in the last game] and I’m a manager who, if players are competing against me and putting in good performances, I’ve no problem in going over – win, lose or draw – to compliment them.”