Steven Gerrard described Rangers’ second-half performance in the 3-1 Europa League first-leg victory over Maribor as the best 45 minutes of his seven-game tenure.
With the sides tied 1-1 at half-time, goals from James Tavernier and Lassana Coulibaly after the break gave the home side a significant advantage to take to Slovenia next week.
Gerrard said Rangers looked like “a proper team” and praised captain Tavernier for the focus he demonstrated with a penalty conversion and two crucial defensive blocks only hours after the club turned down a £2 million bid from West Bromwich Albion for him.
“I think the second 45 is the best we’ve seen from Rangers so far. It’s very close to how we want it to look,” said Gerrard, whose side were pegged back after Alfredo Morelos put them in front after only five minutes. “The challenge for us is whether we can do it over 90 minutes because if we do, we’ll be a very good team.
“We played with aggression and organisation in the second half and I thought we looked like a proper team in the second half.
“We started the game pretty well and deserved to go in front. But then something didn’t feel right from about 15-20 minutes until half-time. We went a bit individual in our shape. But we corrected it at half-time and I thought we were sensational from then on and thoroughly deserved to come away with a 3-1 lead rather than 2-1.”
Tavernier was described as “magnificent” by Gerrard on a testing day for the player.
“Look, good players get attention from other clubs,” Gerrard said. “I don’t appreciate that attention 24 hours before a big game. I’d like a phone call off of big Darren [Moore] at some point. But listen, I’ve been in the game a long time and good players attract attention and things like that happen. He handled it very well and that was probably his strongest performance so far.
“I’m a big fan. He’s got ability, he’s got power – there is more to come from James. I think he still has gears to go into. For me, he is a Premiership footballer. He can play in the Premier League no problem.
“But I noticed when I walked in that he is a leader and a very likeable guy in the dressing room. People respect him. He has been through a lot of turbulence in his time at the club but handled it very well. That’s the reason I gave him the armband. I want James Tavernier here as long as I am here.”