There is no doubt that Steven Gerrard’s appointment and encouraging start to life as Rangers manager was a major factor in what his chairman Dave King described as the most ‘benign’ annual general meeting the Ibrox club have held for years.
But after the calm waters negotiated in front of shareholders on Tuesday, Gerrard is hoping for turbulence of a different kind tonight when his team’s Europa League Group G campaign reaches a critical juncture with the visit of Villarreal.
After the 2-2 draw between the sides on a balmy evening in Spain on matchday one back in September, Gerrard expressed the hope it would be a wet and windy Glasgow which greeted the La Liga side in the return fixture.
He looks set to get his wish, albeit Storm Diana is forecast to just about have blown herself out before kick-off. Whatever the conditions, Gerrard is determined his players will not be as passive as they initially were in Villarreal when they twice came from behind to claim a point.
In a group which Rangers were drawn into as bottom seeds, they have held their own so far but need to bounce back from the 4-3 defeat away to Spartak Moscow three weeks ago if they are to stay in the qualification mix for their final fixture at Rapid Vienna on 13 December.
“We hope Storm Diana is hanging on until 8pm on Thursday,” smiled Gerrard.
“Listen, we want the fans to create a storm, we want the players to create a storm. We want to show Villarreal that if they are going to take anything away from here, they will have to work extremely hard for it. My opinion when this group was drawn, I think Villarreal and Spartak Moscow would have been very happy getting Rangers.
“But I think we have now earned respect in this group. What we hear coming out of the opposition camps now is that they know what they are in for. That’s credit to our players because their performances have made people respect coming here.
“The second-half performance in Villarreal let everyone in the group know we are capable of competing at this level.
“We have played all of the teams in the group now and from the performances the players have put in against them all – even the defeat in Moscow – we have a belief we can sneak out of the group.
“Although there is huge respect for Villarreal and we know they play in one of the top leagues in the world, they are coming to our place where we have been very strong. We have players in good form, so it’s a fantastic opportunity we want to go and grab.
“I think we need a minimum of four points from the last two games to qualify for the last 32. I would have settled for going into the last game needing to win it at the very beginning. The idea when it was drawn was that we were the underdogs, but we go and give it our best shot to get out of the group.
“If someone had said to me at the beginning it would go down to the wire I would have signed up for it. Hopefully we get the right result. We are going to go for the win. We will be aggressive and positive and try and win the game. But, if that is not to be, then it is very important that we take something out of it.
“I want to get to the last 32 and the players do. I don’t think at a club like this you can be satisfied. You have to keep trying to push and go as far as you can go. If it’s not to be, I will be very proud of the players, what they’ve done and the journey we’ve been on. We know the supporters have enjoyed the journey so far but, if you’re a winner, you want to keep pushing. The challenge to the players is can you deliver the last 32 for these supporters?”
Only two points separate all four teams going into the penultimate round of fixtures. Rangers cannot clinch qualification tonight but will be out if they lose and Spartak win at home to Rapid. After the mistakes which littered their defeat in Moscow last time out, Gerrard is seeking a faultless defensive display from his players, while also urging them not to make the mistake of showing Villarreal as much respect as they did in Spain.
“I’ve seen that happen many times and experienced it too many times,” he said. “You can come away with regrets if you’re not careful. In one of the biggest games I played in for Liverpool, we showed the opposition too much respect.
“AC Milan had the world’s best players in every position when we played them in that Champions League Final but we showed them too much respect in the first half. Fortunately, we were able to turn it around.
“Luckily enough for us in Villarreal, we also had 45 minutes to address it. We spoke about it at half-time but the players deserved credit for playing with more freedom in the second half. We looked the equal of Villarreal. That’s where we want the players to take their minds back to in preparing for this game.
“It’s quite clear that if you stand off the Villarreal players, if you give them too much time and space, you will get hurt. You make individual errors, you get hurt.
“With all due respect to some teams domestically, you can get away with certain things against certain opposition in the league. In the Europa League against teams like Villarreal, small mistakes get punished. So for us to get the result we want on Thursday night, we have to defend perfectly.”