Steven Gerrard lays down gauntlet to patched-up Rangers team
But whoever the Rangers manager selects, he feels that his players have shown that they can stitch together performances under various pressures.
The bans handed to Allan McGregor and Alfredo Morelos will deprive Gerrard of two intrinsic components of his team. The fact that the Colombian’s fellow strikers Jermain Defoe and Kyle Lafferty are also injury doubts, could wipe out the Ibrox manager’s entire forward line options.
The scenario is far from ideal, but Gerrard draws succour from his side’s mentality when tested in recent weeks. The hosting of the Perth side gives Rangers the opportunity to move to within three points of leaders Celtic, who aren’t in action until they travel to Kilmarnock tomorrow.
In midweek, Steve Clarke will bring his Rugby Park side to Ibrox for a Scottish Cup fifth round replay that followed a scoreless draw between the teams in the original tie last weekend. The stalemate followed Rangers’ 4-2 victory at Aberdeen four days earlier, with that trip to Pittodrie and the one to Ayrshire pinpointed as a two-game sequence that could have effectively ended Rangers’ season.
“We all knew it was a big week,” said Gerrard. “We were aware of it as a staff, the players were, the supporters, the media. It did have a different feel and build-up. But now we have actually done well up at Pittodrie and are still in the cup, this week becomes just as big. Because we are in a situation now where we need to take maximum points for as long as we can, to keep trying to stay in it.
“Football changes from game to game. Obviously there is a six-point gap at the moment and we have managed to give ourselves a bit of a cushion from the teams behind us. But we respect what’s coming behind. We know we can’t afford dropped points. With Celtic’s fixture schedule we have to make sure we keep taking maximum points, just in case something happens across the road.”
Gerrard was circumspect about whether he had a sense of injustice over the disciplinary system that will impact on his team selections this week.
Rangers released a statement demanding a “through review” of the disciplinary system after they failed to overturn a two-match ban handed to keeper McGregor for kicking out at Lewis Ferguson in the Pittodrie game, which they consider did not tally with no action being taken against Kilmarnock’s Alan Power for a high boot that caught Ryan Jack in the face. This followed a failed appeal for the red card Morelos received for bringing his foot down on the groin area of Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna.
“Look, I am doing my best to try and not talk about disciplinary, the SFA and referees,” he said. “One, because you get in trouble for it. And, two, because there is nothing I feel I can really do about it, except hope that the process gets improved and finds consistency.
“Because then I think everyone will benefit, not me. It would be the whole league.
“Do we feel an injustice? At times we have. But that’s not important now. You accept your punishment. There is nothing you can do once your punishment is there, except move on and get on with it. It’s an opportunity for other players in the squad to step up.
“We have spoken all season about players who haven’t played as many games as they would have liked. Well, be ready for your chance and we have faith those players can step up.
“It is more difficult when it is your main striker and a goalkeeper who has been in fantastic form for us. But we have got another No 1 goalie here in Wes [Foderingham], who has stepped up before. We have confidence in Wes. Now we have added Jermain, we feel we are not in a situation we were in before when Alfredo was out and I felt we lacked firepower. Hopefully that won’t be the case this time.”
That hope depends on Defoe recovering after missing a few days training with a tight hamstring, while Lafferty is also nursing a hamstring. Gerrard described both ailments as “nothing major”. The Rangers manager seemed optimistic both men would come through training yesterday and be available for this afternoon.
“We didn’t expect this situation with Jermain but he’s gone from playing almost no games to playing in matches with this type of intensity,” he said. “We always felt he would have a niggle here and there and that he would perhaps have to miss a couple of days training.”