Rangers expect 'four or five' players back to face Celtic as Gary McAllister assesses Alashkert performance

Rangers assistant-manager Gary McAllister expects the Scottish champions to welcome as many as five players back into their squad for Sunday’s Old Firm showdown at Ibrox.

Assistant-manager Gary McAllister took charge of Rangers in the Europa League play-off round second leg match against Alashkert in Yerevan. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Despite the absence of manager Steven Gerrard and eight first team squad members, Rangers sealed their place in the Europa League group stage with a 0-0 draw against Alashkert in Armenia on Thursday completing a 1-0 aggregate win in their play-off round tie.

Gerrard was forced to self-isolate in the wake of positive Covid-19 tests at the club earlier this week. Along with the suspended duo of John Lundstram and Kemar Roofe, six players also stayed at home - goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Jon McLaughlin, captain James Tavernier, left-back Calvin Bassey, attacking midfielder Scott Wright and winger Ryan Kent.

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Speaking in Yerevan, where Rangers have opted to remain until Friday morning to aid their recovery ahead of facing Celtic, McAllister was upbeat about the prospect of having a fuller squad to choose from on Sunday.

“We will have everybody who was here tonight and will be bolstered by another four or five, by my count,” he said.

“We’ve got players who have been dealing with Covid issues. We’ve got players who have been suspended and we’ve got some players who have been carrying some little niggling injuries. So we’ll be well bolstered for the weekend ahead.

“We will get the recovery right. We feel this is the best way to do this, leading into this game.

“But for everybody – leaders, inexperienced players, youngsters – what a game (on Sunday). What a game.

“We’ve got 50-odd thousand Rangers fans coming to Ibrox for a game against one of our biggest rivals.

“These are the games you want to play in. Now that we’ve jumped into the Europa League group stage, those games are similar. They’re big games for big players and you need big moments in those games. So everybody is looking forward to it.”

Rangers laboured to get the outcome they required in Armenia, despite Alashkert being reduced to 10 men when Brazilian midfielder James was sent off before half-time.

But McAllister wasn’t concerned by their performance level which he partially attributed to the high temperatures in Yerevan.

“It wasn’t a frustrating night for me at all,” he said. “The fact is we came here to do a job and we wanted to get through the tie. And we’re in the draw for the group stages.

“I can understand where that line of question is coming from. We weren’t at our best. But we kept a clean sheet and bearing in mind we had loads of issues surrounding the squad we came together and we’re through. That’s all we wanted.

“It wasn’t pretty, I don’t think we were at our best. But I would stress that at kick-off it was 34 or 35 degrees. By the end of the game it only subsided to a cool 29 degrees! So it was hot, it was hot. You might not have seen that watching the game on the TV screen.

“To get into the Europa League group stage four years on the bounce is brilliant for the players. Listen, it would have been better had it been the Champions League. But we’re in the Europa League group stages and the nights at Ibrox are special.”

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