Steven Gerrard has called on his Rangers players to be “heroes and warriors” in Russia next week to avoid their Europa League campaign ending with regrets rather than a place in the group stage.
The Ibrox side will take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their play-off round tie against Ufa at the Neftyanik Stadium next Thursday. Rangers manager Gerrard had hoped for a more commanding position than the one earned by Connor Goldson’s goal four minutes before half-time in Glasgow last night.
But he believes his team are capable of ensuring their hard work in coming through three previous qualifying rounds does not go to waste.
“Is 1-0 enough?,” said Gerrard. “I’d like a bigger advantage, of course I would. Listen, we’ve got another tough game next week. The clean sheet might be important, that’s certainly a positive. We won’t be getting carried away.
“We understand and respect the opposition and we need a performance full of heroes and warriors next week. But we are capable of going there, being hard to play against and defending well like we’ve shown before. We are also capable of getting an important away goal.
“It would be a shame (if we didn’t get to the group stage now). We’ve got to go there and make sure it’s not a shame. We have to put in a performance where we do all it takes to get over the line. I’m not for going there and coming away with regrets and it being a shame.”
Rangers are now unbeaten in their first 10 games under Gerrard and have kept six clean sheets in that run - three of those in the away legs of their previous Europa League qualifiers. But although ultimately gratified by the victory last night, Gerrard could not hide his frustration at aspects of Rangers’ performance.
“I was disappointed with my team in the first 45 minutes,” he said. “I didn’t think we went through the gears, we were a bit flat. I thought we waited for the crowd to lift us. We asked the players to lift the crowd then go with the momentum.
“So I was slightly disappointed with the first half showing, even though we ‘won’ it 1-0. The second half was closer to what I want. We played with more intensity and purpose on the front foot.
“We kept them in their half for the majority of the second half. We just didn’t get the rewards for how we played in the second half. But we’ve won the game 1-0, we’ve got a clean sheet. The tie is still in the balance, we are up against a tough team. We are in for another tough game. There is a lot of work to do.”
Ufa coach Sergei Tomarov believes his players, in their club’s first ever European campaign, now have an outstanding opportunity to reach the group stage.
“I was proud of my players tonight,” said Tomarov. “We didn’t want to lose, of course, but everything will be decided in Ufa next week and we have every chance to progress.”