Rangers manager Steven Gerrard was not surprised to see his counterpart Neil Lennon depart Celtic. Gerrard – who on Wednesday clocks up his 1,000th day in the job – and his “unstoppable” team need just seven more points to clinch heir first league crown in a decade, with Celtic trailing in their wake, and Lennon resigned his position on Wednesday morning.
“I can’t say I’m surprised because of obviously what’s been going on over there,” said Gerrard. “But I take no personal satisfaction from seeing that news (happen) to Neil or any other fellow manager that happens to. So I wish him well for the future. I only really found out about it this morning but obviously the focus for me is on the game tomorrow.”
Gerrard knows Rangers are almost within touching distance of success at home and abroad but he insists there will be no letting up until they have got it firmly in their grasp. They also stand on the precipice of matching last year’s run to the last 16 of the Europa League. But Gerrard is fully aware now is not the time to stand still and admire what has been achieved so far. Now he has ordered his rampant Rangers to make sure it is job done as they look to put the seal on a remarkable campaign.
Speaking ahead of Thursday night’s second leg with Royal Antwerp, who Gers lead 4-3 after last week’s Flanders thriller, he said: “It’s not about me is the truth. It’s about the supporters, the club, the players. I totally respect the position I’m sitting in right now. We’re on the verge of turning Europe into a successful season again by matching last season’s efforts of reaching the last 16. But we’ve still got a big job to do tomorrow night. If we can do that it will be a real positive in terms of our journey. That will give us the determination to go one step further than last year from a European point of view.
“We’re obviously on the verge in terms of the league campaign, which I’m extremely proud of. But my attitude and focus won’t change until we go get it done. There’s still work to do. There’s still hurdles to get over and tough games on the horizon. But we’re extremely determined to take the opportunities that we’ve got here right now. And that opportunity is to make Europe a success and to do the same in the league. It’s a fantastic position to be in but we’ve got to go grab it now and really capitalise on the position we’re in.”
In Gerrard’s first two campaigns in charge, Rangers had already seen their league challenge implode. But this term they are the side going from strength to strength as Celtic begin the search for a new boss after Neil Lennon’s departure amid the ominous realisation that their bitter rivals could celebrate their title win at Parkhead on 21 March. Gerrard puts his side’s transformation down to improved recruitment and the work of his back-room team.
He added: “I think it’s been a real combination of things but I think they key thing has been a real determination to become more consistent. Our results have proved that. We’ve been unstoppable up until this point. Obviously St Mirren have been the only team that have been able to do that but we weren’t ourselves on that night. Credit to St Mirren but we came off what we’ve been for the majority of this season, which is a real hungry team that has managed to find that consistency to get results.”
Rangers showed that hunger to fight for victory in Belgium that week and Gerrard insists there will be no change in tact for the Ibrox return just because they hold a first-leg lead.
“The scoreline sits as it is with the advantage we’ve got,” he said. “But we certainly won’t be going in with that kind of mentality. We see this as a fresh game. We certainly want to improve from a defensive point of view. We want to be a lot tighter and difficult to play against. But we still want to carry a threat and score as many goals as we can. We’re at home and we’re not going to sit and wait and protect. We’re going to treat this game in isolation and be really aggressive and bold in how we play. This is our home and we want to show everyone how difficult it is to play against this team when they come to Ibrox.”
Meanwhile, Gerrard has been boosted by news that Ryan Jack is only likely to miss a couple of weeks after suffering a recurrence of his calf problems at the weekend.
Additional reporting by PA
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies