Steven Gerrard believes Rangers have now earned the respect of Europa League rivals he feels regarded them as “whipping boys” before the group stage campaign began.
Rangers could take a significant step towards qualifying for the knockout phase if they can defeat top seeds Porto at Ibrox this evening in their latest Group G fixture.
Of the 48 clubs in the group phase, Porto were ranked behind only Sevilla and Arsenal when the draw was made in August, while Gerrard’s squad were third bottom of the overall seedings.
But Rangers’ performance in drawing 1-1 against Porto in Portugal a fortnight ago has established them as genuine contenders to progress from a thus far tightly-contested group which also includes Swiss champions Young Boys and Dutch side Feyenoord.
Porto have indicated they will be better prepared for the challenge posed by Rangers this time around but manager Gerrard is dismissive of suggestions Sergio Conceicao’s side were complacent against his team in the Estadio do Dragao.
“I don’t think they underestimated us, it was more of a case that our display made them stand up and take note,” said Gerrard.
“If there had been anyone in their camp who didn’t respect us before, they certainly will now.
“But I’m not having this ‘Now we know what Rangers are all about, we’ll do something differently at Ibrox’ talk, because they maxed out against us over there. They gave the best performance they could.
“Maybe when the draw was made the other teams looked at Rangers [as a team to take points from]. The opposition, outsiders and certain people in the media would have thought we were the whipping boys in this group, which is good because you use that to your advantage.”
A win tonight would take Rangers three points clear of Porto with two rounds of fixtures to go with Gerrard’s side scheduled to face Feyenoord in Rotterdam on 28 November before hosting Young Boys at Ibrox on 12 December.
“We’re aware that this could be a big result in the group,” added Gerrard. “Even before a ball has been kicked, we knew the importance of doing well in our home games and taking as many points as we could and we did that with a wonderful win over Feyenoord at Ibrox.
“If we can match that against Porto, it’ll give us a certain amount of control in the group with two ties left to play and that would be an excellent position to be in. We expect another tough game because Porto are a team we have a lot of respect for. They have good players who are capable of winning a football match if you allow them the time and space that they want.
“This has the makings of a fantastic night for everyone, including the neutrals, because we’re right up for this, let me tell you.
“This is at our place, our stadium. We need the fans with us right from the off, to get behind us and create a really interesting atmosphere for Porto and then we’ll see where that takes us.”