Steven Gerrard says Rangers ‘as ready as we can be’ for big kick-off
But as Rangers completed an unbeaten programme of friendly fixtures with victory over Derby County, manager Gerrard was hugely encouraged his squad is as ready as it possibly can be for a domestic campaign when the pressure is on to deliver silverware.
“I can’t ask any more of the players from when we came back for pre-season on 17 June until this point,” said Gerrard after Nikola Katic’s goal seven minutes from time secured a deserved win over last season’s Championship play-off finalists.
“Everyone has pushed hard to get themselves in good condition. You saw from the performance today that we look as ready as we can be. I’m really looking forward to the season and seeing how we play.”
Including three Europa League qualifiers, Rangers have scored 23 goals and conceded only one in seven games so far which included friendlies against Blackburn Rovers and Marseille.
“Without being disrespectful, with some of the challenges we have had so far we should be keeping clean sheets,” added Gerrard.
“A lot of the games we put in place are to get the cobwebs off and get a feel for it again. But Derby were 90 minutes away from the Premier League. They have millions of pounds worth of players all over the pitch. They played their strongest team today and are a week away from their season starting, so no-one can say it’s because we are ahead of them from a fitness point of view.
“We’ve had really good, tough tests. Blackburn were fit and aggressive, we should have beaten them. We were ahead of Marseille from a fitness point of view but their budget is bigger, their players earn hundreds of thousands more than my players do.
“So credit to the players, they’ve had a really strong pre-season. But you know what you get for that – absolutely nothing. So now it’s time to reset and go again next week.”
An element of friendly fatigue had perhaps afflicted the Rangers support as there were swathes of empty seats around Ibrox for the fourth of these fixtures in as many successive Sunday afternoons.
A sizeable travelling contingent from Derby did their best to lift a low-key atmosphere as the visiting side settled quicker, enjoying some neat and sustained possession without really causing the Rangers defence, in which £3 million summer signing Filip Helander was making his first start, too many problems.
Former Rangers striker Martyn Waghorn was given a warm reception on his return to Ibrox and his lay-off created the first notable incident of the contest as Tom Lawrence dragged a shot wide of Wes Foderingham’s right-hand post in the 17th minute.
That sparked the hosts into life and Greg Docherty, bidding to prove his worth to Gerrard after his successful loan at Shrewsbury Town last season, forced Derby goalkeeper Kelle Roos into his first save of the afternoon after linking up well with James Tavernier and Scott Arfield. Docherty worked his way into a shooting position again in the 28th minute but, with Arfield and Jermain Defoe both unmarked and urging him to pass, his tame effort was easily held by Roos on this occasion.
As Rangers increased the tempo, their greater urgency asked more questions of the Derby defence. Roos was off his line smartly to deny Jordan Jones as the winger raced on to Arfield’s through ball, then the Dutch keeper made a fine one-handed stop to keep out a powerful shot by Defoe.
Derby captain Richard Keogh did well to block a stinging volley by Arfield before Roos defied Rangers once again six minutes before the interval when he reacted brilliantly to turn aside Helander’s thunderous right-foot shot after the visitors had been unable to properly clear a Tavernier free-kick.
Rangers remained the more threatening and progressive side after the break with Defoe and Arfield linking cleverly to create an opening but Roos got down well to smother the midfielder’s shot.
There was little to really set pulses racing but Rangers captain Tavernier and Derby’s Welsh international midfielder Tom Lawrence found reason to get heated as they indulged in a shoving contest off the ball which referee Kevin Clancy was required to defuse.
Glen Kamara produced some graceful and clever touches in midfield which earned the appreciation of the home fans. But there was nothing subtle about the Finnish international’s ferocious netbound shot from the edge of the penalty area which Derby defender George Evans did superbly well to head over the crossbar in the 61st minute.
As Roos continued his heroics, gathering another shot by Kamara and then displaying outstanding reflexes again to keep out a close-range effort by substitute Sheyi Ojo, it looked as though he was going to deny Rangers the victory their overall dominance of proceedings merited. But Roos was finally beaten seven minutes from time when Katic rose to meet a corner from Andy Halliday and powered home a header from around eight yards.
It ensured a satisfactory afternoon for the Rangers fans, who provided some pantomime villain booing of Graeme Shinnie when the former Aberdeen captain appeared as a late substitute for Derby.