Rangers boss Steven Gerrard says it’s too early to worry about Celtic Park

Steven Gerrard goes head-to-head with Dick Advocaat in the Europa League on Thursday night. Picture: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Steven Gerrard goes head-to-head with Dick Advocaat in the Europa League on Thursday night. Picture: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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This could be the most mammoth of months for Rangers and Steven Gerrard. So mammoth, it would survive any ice age. That’s what happens when you have a block of ten fixtures about the dimensions of a frozen tundra that will comprise seven league games topped off with a derby visit to title rivals Celtic on 29 December, a League Cup final against the all-conquering Scottish champions on 8 December and two Europa League games, beginning with Thursday’s encounter away to Feyenoord and followed by the hosting of Young Boys on 12 December.

By the end of a period that begins today with a trip to Hamilton, the Ibrox side could be removed from the deep freeze they have effectively been trapped in since liquidation. It could be no other way when come the end of 2019 there is the potential for the Ibrox club to be trophy winners for the first time since 2011, progress to the last 32 of European competition for the first time in nine years and lead the country’s top flight at the turn of the year for the first time since 2010. Yet Gerrard has to be cool on the season building to a head of steam in the coming weeks.

“We don’t have to go to Celtic Park until 29 December and it’s the middle of November,” Gerrard said. “We’ll concern ourselves with going to Celtic Park when we have to go to Celtic Park. We have to beat Hamilton away on astroturf, live on TV, in an early kick off.

“Everyone will be waiting for a bit of drama. That’s all we have to focus ourselves on.

“Is it right for people to talk about the next block of fixtures and the challenges within it? 100 per cent yes, but it would be very naïve of me to start talking about what I have to do at Celtic Park or against Young Boys in two weeks’ time or in the final. That would take my focus right off Hamilton.”

Yet, Gerrard himself concedes that consideration beyond what happens in Lanarkshire at lunchtime will be factored in to the team he fields for the encounter. The small matter of Thursday’s Europa League meeting with a Feyenoord team now under the stewardship of former Ibrox manager Dick Advocaat will impact on his Hamilton selection. Victory in Rotterdam would guarantee Rangers qualification from Group G
and considering the club’s two games this week in isolation is something he feels unable to do.

Asked if he would pick a side for the Hamilton visit with one eye on Feyenoord, he conceded: “Yes, but not too much. I know in everyone’s eyes Feyenoord is the glamour tie but the important game is Hamilton right now.

“But obviously lads have been playing internationals and some are a little bit tight. They’re fit, they’re available but have little things they’re monitoring. There are numerous things I have to juggle around in terms of being ahead of the game and what I’m thinking about further down the road. That doesn’t mean I’ll pick any team weaker in my eyes. It’s just what works in my eyes. It’s part of being a manager.”

Another part of being a manager is demonstrating the necessary mentality. Gerrard’s mentality is beyond question following his glittering playing career. He has no doubts about the character of the squad he has assembled before that is tested to the full before the winter shut-down rolls around.

“I never doubt this group of players,” the Rangers manager said. “This group of players are who I’ve put together. I’ve signed them for a reason – because I have belief in them and confidence.

“Does that mean we’re going to smash everyone in this block and it’s going to be perfect? You and I know it’s not something you say right now. We’re a good team, we’re a strong team, we’ve proven so far that when tough challenges come our way we’ve managed to be OK.

“In all the fixtures in isolation, I have confidence that we’re going to be good enough and we’re going to be in a right good position to compete during the challenges that face us — across the board. I have that belief and confidence in the players.”