Revved-up Kemar Roofe in the hunt for special milestone in his first season at Rangers

If Kemar Roofe’s first season as a Rangers player has often appeared to be of the stop-start variety, the English forward was certainly firing on all cylinders in the 4-1 win over Celtic at Ibrox nine days ago.

Kemar Roofe's dismissal for a high challenge on Slavia Prague goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar (not pictured) at Ibrox in March means he will be suspended for the start of Rangers' Champions League campaign next season. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Roofe’s double in the victory which saw Rangers remain undefeated in Old Firm fixtures in a top flight campaign for the first time in 21 years saw him roar firmly into contention to finish it as top scorer for Steven Gerrard’s squad.

The 28-year-old has now scored 16 goals, just one behind strike partner Alfredo Morelos and two adrift of captain James Tavernier who still leads the way. With only two games remaining, at Livingston on Wednesday night and at home to Aberdeen on Saturday when Rangers will be presented with the Premiership trophy, Roofe may just be the man with the momentum in pursuit of the Sam English Bowl which the Ibrox club give to their leading marksman each year.

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Impressive numbers

Kemar Roofe celebrates with Cedric Itten after scoring for Rangers against Motherwell at Ibrox in December. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Roofe’s haul has come from 34 appearances, eight games fewer than Morelos has played, and is a more than acceptable strike rate for his debut campaign at Rangers.

He has also matched the 16-goal tally he achieved in his final season at Leeds United in 2018/19, the highest of his three years at Elland Road.

Given that Roofe was far from fully fit when he joined Rangers from Anderlecht in a £3.5 million move last August, his numbers for the new Scottish champions are admirable. He had missed the last three months of the curtailed 2019/20 campaign in Belgium due to a calf injury but even though he was clearly short of optimum conditioning, it soon became obvious why Gerrard had been so keen to get him on board.

Roofe scored eight goals in his first 14 appearances, albeit further calf issues sidelined him for seven games from September 17 to October 22. It was on that latter date Roofe scored what seems destined to be the most memorable goal of his career, the extraordinary strike from inside his own half to seal a 2-0 Europa League victory away to Standard Liege.

Kemar Roofe celebrates his second goal in Rangers' 4-1 defeat of Celtic at Ibrox on May 2, taking his tally for the season to 16. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

He quickly made it clear that he wanted to avoid simply being remembered at Rangers for that singularly brilliant contribution and his versatility in being able to operate in any of the advanced positions in Gerrard’s preferred 4-3-3 formation quickly marked him out as a player who offered much more than just an eye for goal.

Injury and suspension woes

That said, Roofe’s season stuttered for a spell in which thigh and calf problems saw him miss two games in January and another five from February 18 to March 11. He was also not as prolific as previously, scoring just four goals in 14 appearances from December 13 to March 21.

Roofe also ran into disciplinary problems when he received a retrospective two-match ban from the Scottish FA for a challenge on St Johnstone midfielder Murray Davidson and was then sent off shortly after coming on as a substitute in the blighted Europa League defeat against Slavia Prague at Ibrox on March 18.

In the recriminations which followed that contest, Roofe was handed a four-match suspension by UEFA for his high challenge on Slavia goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar which means he will have to sit out Rangers’ first two ties next season as they bid to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League.

That is unquestionably a blow for Gerrard as Roofe is a player whose tactical awareness and game intelligence lends itself to the challenges faced on the European stage.

He has played a significant role in helping Rangers claim the coveted league title which has ended Celtic’s near decade of dominance. In Premiership matches alone, Roofe has scored 12 goals from just 16 starts. Morelos has also bagged 12 league goals but from 24 starts.

Can do better

Curiously, Roofe’s double against Celtic were his first goals in the Premiership since the end of December. It’s clear there remains room for improvement in the consistency of his numbers and if he can maximise that potential, it should augur well for Rangers next season.

Gerrard has already started reshaping his squad for their title defence and tilt at Champions League football with the pre-contract signing of Zambian international striker Fashion Sakala from Oostende as the Belgian market remains a popular choice for Rangers’ recruitment team.

It seems as if Sakala may be earmarked for deployment either as a central striker or on the left of a front three. The regular make-up of that department of Gerrard’s team could depend on whether Morelos or Ryan Kent are tempted away from Rangers this summer amid ongoing transfer speculation.

But Roofe looks certain to become an even more vital component in Gerrard’s attacking trident, regardless of the personnel around him.

Jamaica calling

He is a player in his peak years and has settled happily at Rangers where he has three years remaining on his contract. Next season could also see him further swell the ranks of internationals in an Ibrox first team squad which has gained steadily in value on Gerrard’s watch.

Walsall-born Roofe is eligible to represent Jamaica and has responded positively to a request to commit himself to the Reggae Boyz ahead of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign which is scheduled to start in September.

Roofe’s shorter-term aim, however, is that place at the top of the Rangers’ scoring charts. If he can get there over the course of his team’s next 180 minutes of action, it will set the seal on a highly satisfactory first season in Scottish football.

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