Steven Gerrard urges Rangers players to make up for humiliating defeat

Steven Gerrard is accustomed to life at the prestigious business end of European club competitions, having scored in both Champions League and Uefa Cup final victories during his illustrious playing career with Liverpool.

Entering the Europa League in the first qualifying round presents a very different challenge for the new Rangers manager but he is acutely aware it is one he cannot afford to treat lightly.

Twelve months ago, the Ibrox club suffered the most humiliating defeat of their 62-year European history when they lost 2-1 on aggregate to Luxembourg minnows Progres Niederkorn at the same stage of the tournament.

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It was a result which resonated far beyond Glasgow, something Gerrard recalled as he prepares for his first competitive game in charge of Rangers against Macedonian side Shkupi at Ibrox tonight.

Steven Gerrard during Rangers training ahead of tonights clash against Shkupi at Ibrox. Picture: SNS
Steven Gerrard during Rangers training ahead of tonights clash against Shkupi at Ibrox. Picture: SNS

“I remember it coming across the yellow ticker bar on Sky Sports News,” he said. “You were like ‘Woah, that’s not going to go down well.’ I certainly don’t want to have that kind of surprise on Thursday night at quarter to 11, certainly not.”

Gerrard has no qualms in using the lingering shame of the Progres Niederkorn defeat as a motivating factor as he bids to restore competitive credibility to a club which experienced so much chaotic embarrassment on the pitch last season.

“I have got every confidence and belief in the players and the team that they can go out and do the job against Shkupi,” he said.

“The team talk is already done, someone did that for me 12 months ago. I am not nervous or scared, I can’t wait to walk out there and get the game going and the lads are really ready for it.

“I hope (the Progres defeat) is in the back of their minds and I hope they are determined to put it right, they have to be. A club this size shouldn’t lose games of football like that. We have to show Shkupi respect and show the competition respect. There are no gimmies, no walkovers. We will approach the game right and show the level of intensity and desire that we have done in the friendly games. If we do, I am sure we won’t have a problem.

“What is important is that we don’t take our eye off tomorrow, we focus on tomorrow and really go for it for 90 minutes. We want the crowd to get right behind the team for the full 90 minutes and really get after that.

“We are at home. We have spoken about what we want to make Ibrox this year, we have spoken about standards and consistency, so I expect the team to come out firing in the early stages.

“We are not good enough at the moment to take our foot off the gas or be complacent or be enjoying ourselves. We have got tonnes of work to do, tonnes of improvement, before we can be relaxed and pick and choose when we turn up. I don’t expect any complacency and if I see it in any individuals, I won’t be happy.

“I can’t wait for the game. I am very proud and very humble to be the Rangers manager and go out in front of a full house for a Europa League qualifier. I think it shows the level of support and how big this football club is. You are getting 41,000 for a friendly against Bury last Friday in the middle of the summer when there is one of the biggest games of the World Cup on the TV. These fans are incredible. So there will be no prouder man than me on Thursday night.”

If Rangers get past Shkupi, they will face Croatian side Osijek or Petrocub Hincesti of Moldova in the second qualifying round.

Gerrard, however, insists he has set no targets in terms of what will represent a successful European campaign for his squad who must get through four qualifying ties to reach the group stage.

“Other people will judge it and consider it a success or not,” he added. “My job is to get us through to the next round and that is my priority at the moment. We are not sure who we are going to be facing if we progress further down the competition so there is no point putting any targets on it.

“We will take it one stage at a time. I think that was probably part of the problem last year, being drawn against the team from Luxembourg and thinking ‘who have we got in the next round and what is happening there?’ All of a sudden, bang. There you go. There is the slap in the face for you.

“We’re happy that there is an expectation and that there is a positivity about the club, but the players have to handle that responsibility and that pressure that is part of this club.

“Every player that comes into this club does an interview and says ‘It’s great to be part of Rangers, one of the most successful clubs in the world’, and they are at a big club now - but now you have got to go and perform and accept that.

“You have to play under pressure and enjoy that pressure and thrive on it. We can’t have players who are going to sink, because that’s when the problems