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Gordon Smith: These are testing times for Steven Gerrard and Rangers

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard (SNS Group / Craig Williamson)
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard (SNS Group / Craig Williamson)

RANGERS’ European exit could see the pressure pile on Steven Gerrard in a way the England legend hasn’t experienced since he moved north to take the manager’s job at Ibrox.

Following on from their League Cup semi-final loss to Aberdeen, the Europa League disappointment leaves the Light Blues retaining an interest in only two tournaments – the Premiership and Scottish Cup.

And anyone who has watched the recent failures against the Dons and Dundee will have serious reservations about their chances of glory in those two.

I know the Light Blues weren’t alone in going down to Austrian opposition on Thursday night, with Celtic progressing to the last 32 despite their 2-1 home defeat to Red Bull Salzburg.

Congratulations to them for that. It is good for the Scottish game and, of course, the co-efficient to have a team still involved until late February at the very least.

We have to be honest, though. Both performances were disappointing. Neither half of the Old Firm played well.

That, though, is pretty much where the similarity ends.

Why? Because Salzburg are a seriously good side. They reached the Europa League semi-finals last season, and have been perfect in the group stages of the competition this season.

They are unbeaten domestically, where they have won the vast majority of their games.

Rapid Vienna are a different kettle of fish. They went into the midweek tie in eighth place in their league, having lost more games than they have won.

Those statistics tell you something straight away, namely that they are not that good.

In Rapid’s case, we already knew it because we had seen it at firsthand when Rangers beat them 3-1 at Ibrox back in October.

So Gerrard was entitled to see this tie as a great opportunity to progress.

But, as they have done on more than a few occasions under his charge, they came up short due to a lack of creativity, coupled with the team’s defensive frailty.

I suspect Gerrard is not so much frustrated as exasperated, and that his private feelings are even stronger than his public statements, which at times have been critical of the players.

If I am right, we should see evidence of this when the transfer window opens in January.

It is a period which looks like being crucial for the club and for the manager.

I think he needs to bring in at least three new faces – a quality striker to provide cover for Alfredo Morelos and Kyle Lafferty, a creative central midfielder and a new central defender.

While Dominic Solanke, on loan, and Steven Davis would look obvious possibilities for the first two spots, the third suggestion is trickier – and more controversial.

Rangers already have four central defenders in Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic, Joe Worrall and Gareth McAuley, on the books.

Unfortunately, when I watch these guys play, I am not seeing one top quality player among them.

Bring one such stopper in and I’d fancy the manager to be able to pick a partner for him from the existing quartet.

Finding him might be trickier.