Steven Gerrard has plenty of credit in Rangers bank but frustration remains over cup performances
When the celebrations subside and the confetti is swept from the pitch at Ibrox on May 15, Steven Gerrard will be fully entitled to reflect on a job outstandingly done this season.
But it won’t take long for the joyful scenes of the Premiership trophy presentation after Rangers’ final game of the campaign to give way to the unrelenting demands placed upon Gerrard for more consistently tangible success and progress at the club.
As he was quick to concede in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s dramatic Scottish Cup quarter-final defeat at home to St Johnstone, one domestic trophy in nine attempts doesn’t cut the mustard for a Rangers manager.
The fact that his first piece of silverware since taking charge in the summer of 2018 is the prized 55th league title which also denied Celtic’s bid for an historic 10-in-a-row ensures that Gerrard has plenty of credit in the bank as far as the Rangers supporters are concerned.
But approval ratings for Old Firm managers can fluctuate more wildly than those of any politician. Gerrard knows the next stage in his restoration of a club which was in a chaotic condition when he was appointed has to include addressing its woeful recent record in domestic cup competitions.
Given that the greatest moments of his storied playing career came in knockout football as he won a Champions League, a UEFA Cup, two FA Cups and three English League Cups with Liverpool, it is surprising that Gerrard has encountered so much despair and disappointment so far in that environment with Rangers.
They have reached just one domestic final in six attempts so far, the League Cup showpiece last season when they still contrived to lose 1-0 to Celtic at Hampden despite a dominant performance.
In the Scottish Cup, the last eight has proved to be an unacceptably low glass ceiling for Gerrard. After losing at that stage to Aberdeen and Hearts in his first two seasons, Rangers emerged as hot favourites to go all the way this year once they had disposed of holders Celtic in the last 16.
But while they had the edge over St Johnstone in terms of possession and chances created over 120 minutes on Sunday, they lacked the intensity and relentlessness which was the trademark of the way they romped to the title with so much to spare.
While Rangers still have three league games to fulfil, starting with next Sunday’s final Old Firm game of the campaign at Ibrox, Gerrard’s thoughts will already be turning to the challenges he faces next season.
The first date ringed in red in his diary will be July 19 when the draw for the third qualifying round of the Champions League is made. If Gerrard can negotiate the two ties between Rangers and a return to the group stage of the tournament for the first time since 2010-11, his stock will rise further on the back of three fine campaigns in the Europa League.
A successful defence of the Premiership title will also be regarded as non-negotiable by the Rangers fans and will again be Gerrard’s primary objective.
But while the domestic cups may be of secondary importance in the greater scheme of things for Rangers, landing one or both of them simply has to be on Gerrard’s tick list.
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