Steven Gerrard looking for cool heads at Parkhead

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. Pic: SNS
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. Pic: SNS
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A couple of crunching tackles and an ignominious stamp and Steven Gerrard was off. It took just 38 seconds for emotions to get the better of the then Liverpool captain and as he headed up the Anfield tunnel he knew he had let his team-mates down against Manchester United.

As a player, the England midfielder wore his heart on his sleeve as prominently as the captain’s armband and admits that he let the passions spill over that day. But as he heads into his first Old Firm match as Rangers manager, he wants to see his squad prove themselves more adept when it comes to treading that fine line between competitiveness and rashness.

It is easier said than done, though. Throughout his playing career Gerrard earned himself eight red cards, seven of them at club level, and more than half were in the dog-eat-dog derbies, against Manchester United or Merseyside rivals Everton.

“There’s a theme there, isn’t there?” he acknowledges as he finally faces up to the confrontation he says everyone has been talking about since he first took charge at Ibrox.

“But this is a game that is magnified more than any other game up here and for me it is important to let the players know that they have to get the balance right between playing on the edge and trying to find the top performance inside themselves and making sure that it doesn’t spill over.

“But we have been trying to do that since the first game of the season and some of my players have got it wrong. Sunday is more important than normal because it is a tough test and a big challenge against a good team and the job is difficult enough with 11 men.”

In the wake of that 2015 early bath, his manager at the time, a certain Brendan Rodgers, publicly tried to excuse the rush of blood to the head saying he believed that a first half spent on the bench watching team-mates failing to make, let alone win, a tackle, had wound him up and that he had failed to channel that frustration appropriately when he did enter the fray in the second half.

Looking back, Gerrard confesses that the silliness had been brewing even longer. “I was only on for about 40 seconds. But I think that sending off had been coming since the Thursday, to be honest, ever since I found out I wasn’t going to start! I was a player who played on emotion and that’s where I felt my best performances came, all the performances that people speak about. Sometimes I got the balance wrong but I am human and my players are human and they will get it wrong sometimes. I can accept that. What we can’t accept is it happening a lot. Because the other players start getting frustrated as well as the manager.”

Two more red cards on Thursday night left the remaining nine men having to dig deep to see the club through to the Europa League group stages and that kind of selfishness would be unlikely to go down well for a second important game on the bounce, which is why Gerrard wants to see more composure when the team head to Celtic Park today.

“As a manager you can accept it if the player is not at fault and is maybe just a bit unlucky or if they are trying to do something for the benefit of the team,” said Gerrard.

“I think the frustrating ones for a manager is when it can be avoided or the player has been a little naive or done something that wasn’t needed.

“We want the players to be tough and to go into challenges and we want the opposition to feel us but we hope they get the balance right.”

Under his guidance, the Govan side have made a positive start to the season. Into the Europa group stages, through to a domestic cup quarter-final, and unbeaten in the Premiership. But two draws, against Aberdeen and Motherwell, mean they are sitting fourth and a gap has opened up between themselves and the league leaders. More dropped points today would not be a disaster but, given the opposition, would not be welcome either.

“All everyone speaks to me about is Celtic and I have done my best to try to dilute it, but now I can’t because we are playing them. I’m all for the build-up. It is a great spectacle and I’m relishing the challenge.”

The belief is that the clash will be more competitive than in recent times. In five head-to-heads last term, Celtic netted 14 goals, compared to Rangers’ two. But it was the 3-2 game that Gerrard attended and he believes that the Parkhead side “were there for the taking” that day. Rangers couldn’t capitalise on that, though, something he claims was an “eye opener”, but many believe Gerrard’s new look side would be less reluctant about.

“When you have a chance you have to pounce,” he said. “On the day Rangers lacked a bit of courage and also lacked a bit of fitness and power to run all over Celtic.

“But I trust the players to handle the ball in difficult situations. It is a big part of a derby match.

“I’ll expect the likes of Allan McGregor, Kyle Lafferty and James Tavernier, people who have experienced it, to be going around the place and helping to give a good steer on what to expect.”