Sheyi Ojo emboldened by Rangers’ rout of Aberdeen

The belief that coursed through Rangers as they crushed Aberdeen at the weekend is certainly unshakeable in Sheyi Ojo.
James Tavernier scores from the spot to give Rangers the lead against Aberdeen. Picture: SNS.James Tavernier scores from the spot to give Rangers the lead against Aberdeen. Picture: SNS.
James Tavernier scores from the spot to give Rangers the lead against Aberdeen. Picture: SNS.

The on-loan Liverpool winger was roundly ridiculed for claiming before a ball was kicked in the Premiership this season that he already knew Steven Gerrard’s team were “the best in the league” and that the forthcoming campaign was all about “proving” his contention.

The widespread grief that came the way of the 22-year-old for ranking his temporary club above a 
Celtic side that have snared the past eight league titles – to say nothing of their triple treble success – was ramped up when the Scottish champions did a number on their rivals at Ibrox a month ago.

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All of this might have been expected to make the Londoner a little more circumspect if the subject was raised with him again. He wasn’t, though. Instead, the blitzing of the Pittodrie side that brought up a fifth straight win for Gerrard’s side following their derby defeat – digging out a League Cup quarter-final victory at Livingston before dazzling at the weekend – has put them in the sort of fettle that appears only to have emboldened him.

“I stand by what I said and I think Rangers are in a good run of form,” Ojo, below, said. “We are doing really well so far this season and we are looking hungry. Any team that looks hungry and is getting wins, it can only be positive. Of course we have to give Celtic respect but, from my own opinion, I believe we can have a really successful season.

“In each game, we have the confidence we can get the three points. And to get a goal difference like today at home is really important. It puts a marker down to all the other teams in the league that we really mean business so we just have to keep going.”

Rangers will wish they could play Aberdeen every week. The Pittodrie men were pathetic patsies as Alfredo Morelos switched between ragdolling and running them ragged, and Steven Davis made the acres of space he was granted
count by, at will, pinging passes in behind a backline that moved as if placed in cement.

It was of no concern to Rangers that Derek McInnes’ men were so rotten as they found themselves on the receiving end of a heaviest reverse in the fixture in 15 years at the very arena they left as victors twice last season.

Gerrard has ramped up the level
of his team since then. And with Celtic’s standards dropping for the first time in this league race as they dropped their first points with a draw away to Hibernian 40 minutes before Rangers took to the pitch on Saturday, their genuine championship challengers ruthlessly capitalised to move within a point and a goal of Neil Lennon’s men. Heck, they did so with Greg Stewart coming in out of the blue to claim his first goal for the club, and winning one of two penalties that James 
Tavernier converted, the Morelos-Defoe double act inevitably doing the rest.

Gerrard said his players were 
given a lift by Celtic’s slip at Easter Road. Ojo saw it differently. “We weren’t really thinking about Celtic and the Hibs game, we just focused on ourselves and got the job done,” he said. “We saw the result but as long as we keep focusing on ourselves then everything will take care of itself. We don’t really worry about the other teams around us, we have just got to keep doing what we are doing and keep getting the results and hopefully we can have a successful season.”

The focus moves back on to the Europa League this week, with Rangers looking to build on the 
tremendous start they made to Group G with the home success over Feyenoord when they tackle the more exacting assignment that awaits them in Berne against Young Boys this Thursday.

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Players such as the assured and experienced Davis, who knows what it is like to play in a Rangers
team that really were the best in Scotland, are crucial for such a 
sortie, Ojo acknowledges.

“If I had to give him a nickname I would probably call him ‘The General’ because he just knows everything – where the ball is going to be and he really dictates the game.

“As soon as he gets the ball I can make my runs to try and create chances for the team. He is a really
important player and has shown throughout the season how good he is. He is one of the main leaders in the squad. We have a few leaders in there but Steven is certainly among them.

“[Against Young Boys] he will be massively important. When you are away from home, you have to play a different type of game. It is not always going to be attacking. The midfield will be asked to do a different type of job at times and he is one of the most important players who can do that.”

What engenders hope within the Rangers fraternity is that Gerrard’s team have demonstrated they are no one-trick pony. If allowed to play, as against Aberdeen, they can turn on a show, but in stuffy away games such as those confronted in Europa League qualifiers and at such as 
St Mirren and Livingston, they had been able to find the strength to find a way to fashion the desired results. Only Celtic have provided them with a test they could not find an answer for. Ojo would probably draw a veil over that…

“We work hard in training on 
different tactics for different opposition,” he said. “In European games especially, we have to play a different style of football at times. We have shown we can do both sides and that will be needed against Young Boys.”