Alfredo Morelos sits out the final game of his three-match ban this afternoon, and the Rangers striker needs to make sure this is his last suspension of the season.
If he falls foul of referees too often between now and May, then he risks having to sit our more games and that will seriously threaten Rangers’ chances of winning the title. That’s how vital he is to Steven Gerrard.
Alfredo needs to get back to the way he was in the early months of the campaign. He was well behaved and didn’t allow any opposition player to overly wind him up.
But his good behaviour wasn’t evident enough a few weeks ago and, rightly or wrongly, he was sent off against Motherwell and Celtic.
He had to sit out the Scottish Cup win last weekend against Stranraer and the 1-0 midweek victory in the league at home to St Mirren.
On both occasions it was job done, and that’s all that really matters. But you would have expected both games to have been more emphatic.
The trip to play Hearts today is the last Morelos misses, and he will be hoping the team can produce the goods without him because they have struggled a wee bit because of his loss to the team.
This will not be an easy fixture. The Tynecastle club’s form in 2019 was very poor and they have slipped to the bottom of the Premiership table. Their decline has been surprising and concerning.
On their results in the past year, or so, you wouldn’t give the Jambos much of a chance today. But they will feel that their season has to take a turn for the better at some point and this is the type of fixture it may well happen in.
On their return from the winter break, they had a convincing win at home to Airdrie in the Scottish Cup and a 0-0 away scoreline at Ross County.
It’s something to build on. But there needs to be a dramatic improvement along with a greater level of consistency to be assured of avoiding relegation.
Daniel Stendl knows this and he will be relying on the likes of Steven Naismith and others to deliver. For today, Hearts will either be terrified or incentivised.
Rangers will look to leave Edinburgh with the three points and Steven will not care if the performance is pretty or not. As long as it’s effective.
He can then prepare for midweek with the knowledge that Alfredo is back and available.
Of course, he will not have played since the 2-1 win against Celtic on December 29th, so there is bound to be rustiness. That said, put the ball in the box and he will sniff out a chance. That’s the type of striker he is.
All things being equal, Alfredo’s presence in the Rangers should be beneficial.
His talent gives them a better chance of winning football games and, indeed, of winning the League. But he is no good, whatsoever, if he is sitting in the stands suspended.
But having such excellent cover for Alfredo has been vital for Rangers. That’s why Jermain Defoe has been brilliant and deserves a few plaudits.
He scored against Stranraer and got the winner against St Mirren. Signing Jermain last January was a brilliant, and brave, decision by Steven. Others may well have shied away from it, but Steven called it right.
Jermain may well score the winner today and then find himself on the bench in midweek to make way for Alfredo. But he will not complain. He will get his head down and focus on being a good team-mate and a proper professional.
He encourages players and tries to get the best out of every single one of them. It’s no wonder he has had such a sterling career and made a positive contribution in the game at many clubs over a period of nearly 20 years.
But it still comes down to doing the talking on the park. That’s where the greatest and most-important of contributions are made.
In order to win League Championships, going to places such as Tynecastle and leaving with a victory is what it’s all about.
That’s where, first and foremost, you need to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. If you do that, then the quality should shine through.
I expect Rangers to win today, as they have been excellent for most of this season and their overall improvement under Steven has been really good in the past 12 months.
The upgrade in their play and standards has been greater than the demise of Hearts.
But is still makes for a fascinating encounter today. When both clubs get together, it’s rarely ever a contest you’d want to miss. I suspect that will be the case yet again for this one.