Ever since the fourth round draw was made two months ago, Steven Gerrard has been unable to avoid forming an image in his mind of the venue where he will start his first Scottish Cup campaign as Rangers manager.
“I’ve heard more about this stadium than I did when I was on my way to the Nou Camp for the first time,” said Gerrard with a grin ahead of tonight’s tie at Cowdenbeath’s undeniably unique Central Park.
But, while able to attach a touch of levity to his pre-match thoughts, the former Liverpool and England captain was equally keen to ensure no-one was left in any doubt as to how seriously he will approach the assignment against Gary Bollan’s League Two side.
Gerrard insists he won’t be fazed by the rudimentary facilities at the Fife ground, nor will he make the mistake of tinkering with his team selection. He retains painful memories of a shock fourth round FA Cup defeat for Liverpool at third-tier Oldham Athletic in January 2013, when the Anfield giants, then under the management of Brendan Rodgers, paid the price for fielding a much-changed line-up.
“That was the classic case of Liverpool just turning up (and expecting to win),” recalled Gerrard whose appearance as a second half substitute couldn’t spare the seven-times FA Cup winners a 3-2 loss.
“It was one of the coldest matches I ever played in. The dressing-rooms weren’t great, the pitch wasn’t great and there was nothing at one side of the ground at Boundary Park because of construction work. It wasn’t as glamorous as Anfield and we got caught out,” said Gerrard, pictured.
“So I’ve been there as a player. I also remember another FA Cup tie against Havant and Waterlooville in 2008. They came to Anfield and were magnificent, going ahead twice before we won 5-2.
“I expect Cowdenbeath to bring their best performance against us. Every single one of their players will be desperate to be involved and give a good account of themselves.
“We’ve seen it many times where that giant killing happens and we all know how it happens. It’s when you go in with that complacency and no respect for the opposition and you think you just have to turn up and get the result.
“If my players go in like that on Friday night, there’s another giant killing on the cards. Cowdenbeath have got a chance in this fixture. Without a doubt.
“So that’s the mentality we’ve got to go in with. Do we want to play at a packed Hampden on a carpet of a pitch in May with the chance to win a piece of silverware? That’s the carrot for me and us. That’s the mentality the players should go in with.
“Listen, I’m looking forward to the experience at Central Park. I’m a grassroots man as far as football is concerned, I grew up on muddy pitches. I’ve been changed in dressing rooms that were too small, on the grass outside and sometimes on the gravel in the car parks.
“All these things don’t matter, it’s a great fixture and we have respect for Cowdenbeath. The stadium isn’t going to change so we have to be professional and do our jobs. We will have a fantastic support behind us, they are going there to see a strong Rangers team and that’s exactly what they’ll see. You’ll see from my selection just how much I want the job done.”
That team selection will include appearances at some stage of the evening for both of Gerrard’s high profile January loan signings, Bournemouth striker Jermain Defoe and Southampton midfielder Steven Davis, as Rangers look to pick up the momentum created by their Old Firm victory before the winter break.
“They will both be involved and I’ve been delighted at how they have settled in,” added Gerrard. “They have raised the quality in training and they are both humble and professional guys.
“We need to forget who we are playing and where we are playing on Friday night and concentrate on producing a result and a performance. “We have to show Cowdenbeath respect, remain professional and go and do what we do.
“Hopefully that will be enough to get us in the draw for the next round. Someone told me Cowdenbeath are called the ‘Blue Brazil’ and I just hope they don’t play like Brazil, that’s for sure
“They will be desperate to write the headlines and get that giant-killing.
“It’s a fixture we just have to deal with and get the right result because I’m not sure it’s a fixture where we can actually really win. Because if we do win, that’s just what we are meant to do, while if we don’t win by a huge margin, then we will have failed. That’s life. All I’m interested in is the result.”