Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has warned his players that failure to improve their disciplinary record could scupper their hopes of sustaining a title challenge this season.
The Ibrox club lead the top flight of Scottish football for the first time since 2011 after their 2-1 win over Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday.
The victory was achieved despite midfielder Scott Arfield being sent off midway through the second half.
It was the seventh red card received by Rangers since the start of the campaign and while Gerrard believes some of the decisions have been harsh, he admits the onus is on his squad to address the situation.
Gerrard convened a meeting with his players yesterday morning in which he expressed his concern over the longer term implications of their current rate of dismissals.
“We’ve had seven red cards, which is too many, and we’ve told the players that today,” said Gerrard.
“We have to all, as a group, improve our disciplinary record. Some red cards we’ve deserved, some we feel a little bit hard done by.
“I’m confident we can help the players and channel it in the right direction. We want them to be tough, to compete, to be fair and as hard to play against as they can. “But we also have to make them aware of the knock-on effects. We’ve now played over 280 minutes this season with either ten men or even nine. We’ve coped very well in those circumstances, but it has a knock-on effect.
“Other players have to work harder in those minutes, it puts more strain on their bodies and puts them at a higher risk of injuries.
“We also lose key players for important fixtures in the future, so it’s not just the isolated incidents which concern us, it’s the knock-on effect it has on the squad.
“We don’t want the players to go over the top, we want them to be fair and I don’t think we are a dirty team. We have players who will compete, but Daniel Candeias has had two red cards and he’s not a dirty player.
“Scott Arfield isn’t a dirty player, but he made a mistake on Sunday and he will be punished for it and rightly so.
“It’s a bit of a surprise and a shock to me that we have had as many red cards. We haven’t deserved a couple of them, so it obviously looks a lot worse that it is.”
Gerrard raised eyebrows at the start of the season when, after Alfredo Morelos was sent off after 12 minutes against Aberdeen at Pittodrie - the red card later rescinded on appeal - he claimed Rangers had been the victims of bad refereeing decisions ‘for seasons’.
Asked if he still held the same view, he replied: “Probably not as strong, no. Sometimes when you speak as a manager, your emotions are running high and sometimes you get it slightly wrong, I suppose.
“But I don’t want to get involved in talking about officials.”