Tenacity and tackling prowess are among the key attributes which have made Ryan Jack the influential fulcrum of Rangers under Steven Gerrard this season.
But the midfielder admits he has been forced to modify elements of his approach in a bid to stay on the right side of the disciplinary line which has caused so much debate over the past week.
Hibs defender Ryan Porteous’ rash lunge at Jack’s team-mate Borna Barisic at Easter Road last Friday and Aberdeen striker Sam Cosgrove’s high-octane challenge on Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer the following day both earned straight red cards amid contrasting views from fans and pundits.
Jack – sent off four times during his first season at Rangers – has largely steered clear of trouble since, aside from a softer dismissal for two bookings in the Europa League against Young Boys at Ibrox.
The 27-year-old said: “I have had a few red cards myself for a few bad tackles over the years but you need to learn from it. Nowadays, you have to time it perfectly and if you don’t, the way the game is, then it is a red card. It’s a tough one.
“Last Friday, he [Porteous] takes the ball but the follow-through catches Borna and it’s high up. It’s a bad challenge and the ref did his job by sending him off.
“It’s all about the timing. I have also seen the Cosgrove one. It’s the speed he goes in at but, for me, he wins the ball and you don’t see him catching much of the player. With the Porteous one, he catches Borna quite high up. They are two different challenges.”
Jack felt Rangers played as well as they have all season in beating Hibs 3-0 last Friday to set themselves up for their final two games of 2019, against Kilmarnock at Ibrox on Boxing Day and the Old Firm showdown at Celtic Park on Sunday.
Jack added; “We knew it would be a tough game at Easter Road. With Jack Ross coming in as manager, Hibs had a couple of good results. But we had worked all week on a plan and the way Hibs set up played right into our hands. I thought we were excellent.
“We had worked on it all week. Hibs got a positive result against Aberdeen at home so we worked on it, thinking they would go with two up top and the diamond – they would have a go. Thankfully it paid off.
“You go to those away venues, it’s sold out, they are right up for the game, the crowd’s right up for it. It’s always tough. There are always periods of the game when you have to stand up and stick in there. Even the first 10 minutes of the second half, they put us on the back foot a wee bit and we had to stand up. We did that and Jermain Defoe got the third goal which kills the game.
“Kilmarnock are another team who always give us a tough game. Even at the start of the season at Rugby Park, we scored the winner in the last minute. We are fully prepared for another tough one. We have done our work all this week in training and hopefully it’s the same outcome again.
“There is no room for us to be thinking ahead, about going to Parkhead, playing Celtic in an Old Firm, the last game of the year. All focus has got to be on Kilmarnock.”
As satisfied as he is with his own form, Jack’s priority is to play a part in ending Rangers’ long wait for silverware this season.
“I am obviously pleased with how I’m playing but the main thing is that the team is doing well,” he added. “If you are playing well, that means the team is doing well so I am happy. I have always said that I haven’t achieved anything yet and there is a long way to go this season so hopefully 2020 will be a big year.
“I think it is more about not getting carried away. There is a long way to go, a lot more still to achieve and a lot more to come.”
Jack admits he enjoyed a seasonal laugh at news Rangers fans had hijacked an online poll of Aberdeen supporters to try to vote him on to the team of the decade at his former club.
“I don’t think that will go down too well with the Aberdeen fans, to be honest!” he said. “A couple of mates sent me it and I had a chuckle. But, no, I didn’t vote for myself!”