With twelve games left of the 20/21 season, Rangers sit 23 points clear of 2nd placed Celtic, albeit their city counterparts have 3 games in hand and so maybe in a position to narrow that gap to a ‘mere’ 14 points if they managed to do win all of them. That’ll be a difficult ask for a club that’s won just over half of their league games this term while all around Parkhead has crumbled under the weight of presumption and expectation.
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers are on the cusp of legendary status. The man himself while already an icon in world football and a God in Liverpool might well be aware of how much this title means to the Rangers support but I’d suggest he won’t have an earthly of where it’ll place him in Rangers fans minds.
If he can push his side over the line to win Rangers’ 1st league title in a decade, he will be placed on a pedestal so high in the football heavens by the blue half of Glasgow, that I’m certain even the Rangers manager will be humbled by it. For all he’s achieved in the game, despite his illustrious and successful career, bringing Rangers home in this campaign and the reaction that will bring? Well, even a man so revered in his native city and country will be astonished by the outpouring of love and appreciation that’ll be showered upon him.
However, there’s plenty of work still to be done, but there’s no getting away from this now, Gerrard’s Rangers are close. Very close. His mantra all season has been 1 game at a time, and this has worked so well for him. His players have maintained a level of consistency that’s led to several quite stunning performances and results.
In this article, while Rangers have won nothing as yet, I’m going to attempt to point to some key games on Gerrard’s journey as the Glasgow Rangers manager. I’ll try to show pivotal results and performances over the last 150 games in less than 3 years since Steven Gerrard took on the monumental task of taking a club that’d been in what can only be described as the ‘grubber’ and manoeuvred them into a place where they’re potentially about to be crowned the champions of Scotland.
This is part of a series on Gerrard that I am covering on The 4th Official along with Rick on Gers Net Online and Adam on The Heart and Hand tactics board. I would say, take a look at Rick’s first piece here after you have given this a read.
1) The 1st game I’m going to mention is the Europa League 3rd round qualifiers against Maribor. I’m going to mention both legs of that tie, Maribor had a very decent pedigree in European football, and for me anyway, they were favourites to go through the tie. With some excellent, technically gifted players, my opinion at the time was playing a team of that calibre would likely be a step too far for a team with a host of new players still trying to understand what their new manager wanted from them.
I was wrong, a quite scintillating performance at Ibrox gave them a 3-1 advantage going into the 2nd leg in Slovenia a week later. Morelos, Tavernier (pen) and Coulibaly scoring. Rangers went a goal ahead early on only for Viler to equalise with a quite ridiculous volleyed effort that flew into the top far corner. Rangers came out for the 2nd half and ripped a very decent side apart. They scored twice to win 3-1 and everybody leaving Ibrox that night realised they had a football team worthy of the Famous Glasgow Rangers for the 1st time in many years.
2) The 2nd leg in the Slovenian summer heat was a backs to the wall, epic performance. A “thou shall not pass” mindset from newly returned goalkeeper Allan McGregor combined with an organisation we hadn’t seen at Ibrox for a long, long time (Rangers had lost in the 1st qualifier to Progrés of Luxembourg the season before, quite possibly the lowest trough of the banter years for many) with McGregor even saving a penalty to keep a clean sheet.
Gerrard’s team was organised, disciplined and played without fear. That was the moment, for me anyway, that I felt Rangers would go places under Gerrard. As the final whistle went, it was the 1st time in years where I thought “hang on a minute; we have a team with some serious potential here.”
Those results, but more importantly for me the performances, filled me with confidence and excitement. Yes, Rangers were a team in the making but getting through that tie filled me with new optimism and pride.
From the shambles of the season before where Pedro Caixinha had been given his jotters after only a few months in charge, despite spending more on players than anyone expected, Rangers turned to Graeme Murty. A time of frustration is the kindest way I can find to put it. To come from there to the final qualifier for the Europa League? Well, I sure didn’t see that coming to be brutally honest.
Rangers would qualify for the Europa League group stages, beating Russian outfit UFA 2-1 over 2 legs despite going down to 9 men. Some bizarre and dubious refereeing decisions during the 2nd leg in Russia made that achievement a miraculous one, in my humble opinion. It also vindicated the Rangers board’s decision to bring the Liverpool under 18’s coach to Glasgow. A brave and visionary decision that brought a European financial jackpot allowing Dave King to back his new manager in future transfer windows.
3) The next game I’d like to look at might be an odd one for some as it resulted in defeat. A defeat to our city rivals no less. Gerrard’s 1st Old Firm experience was to be against Brendan Rodgers’ all conquering Celtic. A team full of confidence and a right good side to be fair to them.
Rangers lost the game 1-0. Did they deserve to lose? Maybe. However, Gerrard was livid after the match as there had been a quite blatant foul in the initial build-up to the winning goal. A clear foul on Ryan Jack by Tom Rogic led to a quick breakaway and Ntcham scored to give Celtic the win.
Celtic were very good in the 1st half. McGregor was lucky not to get sent off for a kick out on Ajer; they hit the woodwork a couple of times and Rangers struggled to get out of their own half. There was a difference from previous visits though, a mindset similar to that game away to Maribor I mentioned. Rangers were under severe pressure but refused to buckle.
They came out in the 2nd half of that game and started to play a bit. They defended resolutely, they were much more organised and played as a unit. That was the 1st time we’d seen a Rangers team go to Parkhead and play without fear since they’d returned to the top flight.
As I say, they ultimately lost the game. Did they deserve to take anything from it? Maybe, maybe not, but it was clear for all to see that this team under Steven Gerrard was different from what we’d seen in the recent past.
The reason I put this game on this list of key matches was for the performance under extreme pressure. It was the new manager’s 1st experience of an Old Firm game, and it gave him an insight into what to expect and the size of the job ahead of him. His team lost, but the performance was ok, not brilliant, but they did alright considering the size of the task in hand.
He said something after the game. Something I’d forgotten about until my son mentioned it to me just the other day. It struck a chord with me at the time and obviously, it resonated with my boy too as it stayed in his head.
“I get it now.” That’s all he said. 4 little words, that’s all it was but looking back on that day, that game and Gerrard’s take on his 1st experience of the biggest game in British football? Well, you can tell by his reaction to last season’s win in Parkhead that he wasn’t just saying it for the cameras, he really did get what it means to both sides of the Glasgow divide.
Those 2 games I highlighted from Gerrard’s 1st season in charge both came early on in his Rangers career. I considered many other games but decided on those because I think they show there was newfound professionalism within the club instantly. Rangers under this new manager were an organised side with new signings that were quite clearly a massive upgrade on what we’d seen previously in the years preceding his arrival.
4) Last season’s games I found easier to pick. I’ve gone for 2 Europa League games, both against Portuguese opposition.
Rangers started last season strongly; they went about their business with the only real blip being a home defeat to Celtic. They countered that with their 1st win at Celtic Park in 9 years at the turn of the year but I’m going to concentrate on those Europa League games because I reckon both of them hinted at the progress we were going to witness from this team thus far this season.
Porto at home on a Thursday night. European nights at Ibrox are mesmerising. Porto are a huge name, a Champions League club almost every single year. They’d incredibly been knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers so found themselves in the Europa League with Rangers, Feyenoord and Young Boys of Berne.
I turned up to that game not expecting much, to be honest. The team had gone to Portugal and already achieved a hugely creditable 1-1 draw having been given the runaround in the 1st half. They came out and performed magnificently in the 2nd half and Morelos scored to give them a deserved share of the spoils.
Could Rangers get a result? I felt they could get another draw if they turned up and performed on the night. My boy wasn’t so sure, and on the walk up to the ground, he was firing stats at me, telling me how good this Porto team were. We were both really, really looking forward to it. Porto were the biggest name that had turned up at Ibrox in a decade, so we were both right up for it.
The Portuguese started well, they had plenty of the ball, but as we’d come to expect, Rangers were solid and showed a resolve we’ve all come to expect from this team. The sides went in goalless at half time. As the 1st half progressed, Rangers had managed to play their way into it, and my son and I were fairly happy with the way the game had gone as we discussed it during the interval.
The 2nd half started, and you could see immediately that Rangers had quickened everything up. Steven Davis was pulling stings in the middle of the park; runners were going beyond the strikers, and Rangers were the better side. It was a joy to watch. Rangers were pinning Porto back; they had them rattled. Morelos was giving Pepe a torrid time as he had the experienced ex Real Madrid player on toast.
Sure enough, a smart move led to a ball into the box from Ryan Jack, and Alfredo Morelos let the ball run across his body and hit it 1st time from 16 yards or so, right into the bottom corner of the net. The old place erupted, and I mean exploded! What noise. Rangers were 1 up against Porto.
That was something just a couple of years before was so far away from any Rangers fan’s mind; Rangers were beating Porto here. Wow. They’d already beaten Feyenoord in the 1st home game of the group, but this was different gravy.
Only a few minutes later Steven Davis scored another, and it was 2. That moment is my reason for highlighting this game regarding Gerrard’s journey in his role at Ibrox.
2 nil up against Porto. The entire stadium is rocking, and I mean ROCKING. After jumping about like a lunatic with my son, I turned round and looked at him.
The emotion, the joy, the disbelief on the young man’s face will live with me till the day I die. As a father who takes his boy to the game, well… I could’ve cried right there. There was a lump in my throat, a big lump…
That was the moment when I knew Rangers were back, the instant I realised Rangers are going to be successful and win trophies again. Gerrard was building a side capable of destroying really good teams.
This is the Rangers my son deserves. This is the Rangers all of our young fans deserve to see. 2 nil up and pretty much destroying a team of this class and quality. My boy and I enjoyed that I can tell you. We walked back up to the car happier than at any point in years. He was on cloud 9 as was every single Rangers fan on the planet.
5) If that was an incredible performance, then the last 32 tie against Braga was different. I’ve seen some great comebacks over the years from Rangers sides, but this 1 was on another level altogether.
I don’t know if I was complacent about that game that night, but I expected Rangers to get through that tie. I didn’t expect Braga to turn up and play us off our own pitch for an hour.
They scored with an absolute worldy from 30 yards or so, off the bar and in like a rocket. 1 nil down early and not playing well. The team wasn’t functioning at all, they’d lost form and in that 1st half really struggled to keep a hold of the ball.
Braga were the better side, and that continued into the 2nd half. The crowd was getting a bit restless, but I must admit I did admire the way Braga were playing through Rangers as if their players weren’t there at times.
A misplaced pass and Braga took full advantage, a rasper ripped into the bottom corner leaving McGregor helpless, and it was 2-0 to Braga. Dejected and thinking that was the European campaign done for the season I sat in my seat, freezing.
Step up Ianis Hagi, scoring from about 18 yards to get Rangers back in the game. A few minutes earlier Rangers had a chance, and it lifted the crowd a bit, that goal really pulled us all together.
Moments later Joe Aribo danced around 5 Braga players and slotted the equaliser and Ibrox went bonkers. 2 all in a game they’d barely been in. Rangers were now all over the Portuguese side like a bad rash. I think the whole stadium knew Rangers were winning that game.
Hagi’s deflected free-kick took an eternity to go in but I’ll say this… very rarely have I ever heard a din like that in a football stadium. A cacophony of noise. 3 -2 Rangers. Out of nowhere.
Looking back at that comeback, it epitomises the man that’s built that team. Gerrard as a player never once gave up. Never. I remember him scoring with the last kick of the ball to beat Olympiakos in an incredible comeback. Never mind the greatest comeback of all time in the Champions League final against AC Milan that you could say defines the man.
That’s what Rangers have now. A team moulded in Steven Gerrard’s personality. He’s taken this club by the scruff of the neck and hauled them back to respectability.
The standards of every aspect of Rangers have risen so sharply that when you looked back on the club 3 years ago, it’s almost unrecognisable. I’m sure everybody can see that, and I’m certain every single Rangers fan will be eternally grateful.
He’s given us our club back. He’s taken us fans along on his own journey with him. He is almost there, almost immortal and if Rangers can get over the like in the title race, he’ll be regarded as a God in 2 of the greatest footballing cities on earth.
No mean feat, if he can drive his team on for another few weeks. Nothing’s been won yet, but he really is on the cusp of being so revered that even Steven Gerrard, regarded as the best midfielder England has ever produced, the Liverpool legend and icon will be genuinely overawed by the adulation that could be about to come his way…
Well, hope you enjoyed this one. I will be writing the 2nd part when we are guaranteed this title. Hopefully, not too long then!
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