Rangers manager delighted by midfielder’s ‘magnificent’ displays, writes Alan Pattullo
Not many players get a second chance at Rangers. Andy Halliday is currently making the most of a third, perhaps even fourth, opportunity at a club where he risked becoming a casualty because he cared too much.
He was the local boy who was an easy target during multiple implosions at the club last season. Halliday was mocked by Celtic fans and assessed in ultra-critical fashion by those meant to be on his side. That hurt someone with such deep affection for the Ibrox side.
Now the 26-year-old has less to worry about and the feeling is mutual, both in the stands and the dugout. Everyone expected Steven Gerrard to glance at his chequered history and say time’s up. Instead, the Rangers manager has unexpectedly proved his saviour.
“I love Andy Halliday,” Gerrard said yesterday when asked to review the player’s season so far. No one has impressed Gerrard more since he arrived at Ibrox to the extent that he describes Halliday as the unofficial captain of the club. James Tavernier, the current skipper, has been another stand-out of Gerrard’s time but Halliday has been its heartbeat.
The midfielder played every minute of Thursday’s impressive 2-2 draw with Villarreal in the Europa League. This remarkable story of redemption is likely to continue this afternoon against St Johnstone with Halliday set to make his tenth appearance of a season he had expected to spend elsewhere.
It gets better for Gerrard too. As well as celebrating the unlikely rebirth of Halliday, the Ibrox manager is welcoming the equivalent of a new signing in Graham Dorrans. Like Halliday, some wondered if the former West Brom midfielder had a future under Gerrard after an injury-disrupted first season at Ibrox.
He was in a better position than Halliday since Gerrard knew exactly what he could do from playing against him down south. The Ibrox manager was given a reminder of those days when Dorrans made a surge into the Villarreal box to set up a chance for Scott Arfield in a five-minute cameo at the end of the game, his first action of the season.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Gerrard. “He’s burst past me a couple of times when we’ve played against each other!” As he regains fitness Dorrans will likely continue to play a part. Halliday has already done so, to nearly everyone’s surprise, himself included. “I think Andy, in his head, thought he was gone and not wanted,” said Gerrard. “He probably felt the new manager would come in and not want him.
“But from the very first training session to the final whistle in Spain on Thursday night he has given absolutely everything. I can’t fault him off the pitch either, he’s been magnificent.”
This time last year Halliday was in exile. Cast out on loan to Azerbaijan by Pedro Caixinha, it was the second time the midfielder feared he was being rejected by the club he grew up supporting. He was released as a youngster before being brought back by Mark Warburton three years ago.
When interim manager Graeme Murty threw him back in to start the Scottish Cup semi-final mauling by Celtic last season, and he was hauled off before half-time, it felt like a final severing of the ties.
While Halliday reappeared the following week, and played the majority of games left in the campaign, most sensed it was a long goodbye. He endured a ragging from Celtic fans when filling in at left-back for the 5-0 league thrashing towards the end of the season. How could there be any way back from this? But his refusal to give up on his Rangers dream has been one of the stories of the season so far.
It’s significant that Gerrard chose to make a beeline towards Halliday after nine-man Rangers held on against Russian side Ufa before grabbing him in a playful headlock.
The Rangers manager admitted that some observers, even inside the club, had viewed Halliday as expendable. “When I came in there was a list of players – some had ticks, some had question marks and some had crosses,” he recalled. “It was important to see them close-up – eye-to-eye – in a couple of sessions to see if they had the ability or the level.
“At the same time, you are looking at them off the pitch to see what type of character they are. Andy Halliday has been perfect since day one.”
“It was a bit of a shock, really, from what I had heard or read,” admitted Gerrard. “His performances are getting stronger and stronger.
“He’s almost like a captain in the dressing room. In fact, he is the unofficial captain of this club – he glues everything together.”
“I like to judge people face-to-face,” he added. “The least you can do when you come to a club this size is give people a chance – especially people that are supporters of the club, people who care and will give you blood, sweat and tears. These are the people you need about.”