Steven Gerrard: Rangers will cope with problem pitch in Vienna
The Austrian outfit have been forced to relay one of the goalmouths at their 24,000-capacity home ground after it began to cut up. But there are a number of other bare patches and Rapid chiefs have told Rangers they will have to do their final preparations for tonight’s last-32 decider on a practice field outside the ground.
It is far from the ideal scenario as Gerrard goes in search of the win that will see his team through Group G to the knockout rounds. But the Ibrox boss said: “I think we have to adapt. I don’t see it as a big problem. It doesn’t change our focus on tomorrow night. I think it’s a sensible decision because having looked at the pitch it does look quite wet.
“For both teams it’s sensible to keep it in the best shape it can be in for tomorrow’s game because it’s going to be a huge match. We’ll have to see how the pitch plays tomorrow night. It’s difficult to judge. On the eye, it looks really good but to feel it’s very wet. We’ll have to see how it plays but it’s the same for both teams. We don’t like to use excuses and we will focus on our gameplan and what we have to do to win the match. The pitch won’t change. It is what it is and we have to go out there and give it our best shot.”
While Rangers must take all three points if they are to extend their European campaign beyond Christmas for the first time since 2011, the hosts need only a draw.
The Austrians have had a poor domestic campaign and currently languish in eighth place, 25 points adrift of Bundesliga leaders Red Bull Salzburg.
But the Ibrox men have their own frustrations after blowing the chance to go top of the Ladbrokes Premiership by dropping five points against Aberdeen and Dundee in the last week.
Asked if he expected a reaction, he said: “I expected a reaction at Dundee! The last two performances, I don’t think we’ve shown the true Rangers, nor the standards we’ve set since the start of the season. This is a different game, a different style. We believe Rapid will come out and attack us and we’re expecting a positive performance with a vocal fanbase behind them.
“We don’t expect them to sit deep and contain and look to spoil like [we’ve faced] in the last two matches. This game will suit us. It’s more of a 50-50 match. We have major respect for the opposition. Like ourselves, Rapid were the underdogs to progress and it’s a fantastic game for both teams.”
Gerrard is without the injured Ryan Kent and the suspended Daniel Candeias but will have the backing of 2,500 Rangers supporters in their official allocation, with perhaps another 1,000 in the home ends.
Thousands more have travelled to the Austrian capital without tickets and Gerrard wants his team to reward their loyalty with a famous win. “It’s no surprise they have come over in numbers because they are passionate and love the club and have been doing that for years,” he said. “But I don’t want to give them a message about the game, I want my players to give the message by giving the supporters a performance of which they can be proud because the rewards are worth it.”
Rapid Vienna bosses, however, have warned Rangers fans to stay away from the Allianz Stadion if they do not have tickets for tonight’s match.
The club’s service chief Andreas Marek said: “The game is completely sold out. It’s just unbelievable how much demand there was for the tickets. We are happy about this and looking forward to the game – but we must make it clear there won’t be any people about the stadium selling tickets before the match.
“This is very important. This is not like other places where there is a black market for tickets. A real Rapid fan won’t sell his ticket to a Scottish fan.
“So the Rangers fans shouldn’t come without a ticket because there won’t be any available at the stadium.”
Rapid bosses have also held security meetings with their Rangers counterparts and Marek says he is confident the club’s security plan can handle the influx of fans from Glasgow.
He said: “We have a plan set up for tomorrow. We try all we can do. There are some small numbers of supporters who will come to Vienna. We’ve heard numbers between 2,000 with tickets and 12,000 without tickets.”