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Rangers boss Steven Gerrard lauds ‘warrior’ Connor Goldson

© Stuart Wallace/BPI/ShutterstockRangers defender Connor Goldson
Rangers defender Connor Goldson

Steven Gerrard believes the Rangers players have gone from trauma to triumph this season.

And the manager has paid tribute to the “mountain” at the heart of his team’s success.

Rangers recorded a thrilling 4-3 Europa League victory over Royal Antwerp in midweek and today they look to extend their unbeaten league record to 30 games against Dundee United.

This will be defender Connor Goldson’s 42nd competitive match of the campaign.

Ryan Kent, previously criticised for his inconsistency, will have appeared 40 times if he is involved.

Those are impressive totals considering we are still in February.

Gerrard said: “They are two people who have been extremely robust up to this point.

“They don’t like not playing. They take it out on me if they are left out or they have to come off the pitch.

“Connor has been an absolute mountain for this team, a warrior.

“He has had a lot of stick over the years, wrongly in my opinion. But he has continued to improve and strive to improve from a personal point of view.

“He has been one of our most-consistent players.

“I wasn’t too happy with the back line the other night, but if you look at the big picture, Connor Goldson has been absolutely immense.

“I can’t describe to you how well he has done for this team, not just in terms of what you have seen, but leadership on the inside and availability every single day.

“He has high standards, and is always pushing other people to improve their standards.

“Connor is a proper leader and I am made up for him.”

© SNS Group
Leon Balogun and Ryan Jack celebrate with Ryan Kent after his strike in Antwerp on Thursday night

Being in charge of a side that has only tasted defeat once in 40 games reminds Gerrard of his time as a player at Liverpool.

Rangers showed incredible determination when twice coming from behind to beat Antwerp.

The Light Blues boss reckons his men have learned from previous disappointments.

He said: “I have played in some real special teams that had those characteristics – teams that really didn’t like the taste of defeat.

“I get the impression these lads have been through enough trauma and situations where they have not felt good about them.

“People going above and beyond to not accept a defeat, or a draw, and doing everything they can to make the supporters proud.

“I am really confident challenging this group and telling them what they don’t want to hear because I know I will get the right reaction.

“That’s a good dressing-room to have.

“We want the players to back themselves and play with belief, almost forget who they are playing, and just be the best version of themselves.

“We believe that, on our day, we are a good match for the majority of teams, certainly at Europa League level.

“Last year it was only against Bayer Leverkusen where I felt there was a big gap in the quality of the sides. But I think that was natural when you think about the amount of money they have spent on their squad.

“The league is the bread and butter at this football club but Europe is so, so important.

“It has never ever been a case of me picking and choosing what we want to do
well in.

“I would love to have a domestic cup on the CV, but financially this club doesn’t function how we want it to without European funds.”

© Stuart Wallace/BPI/Shutterstock
Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard is far too canny to start predicting that his team have a chance of winning the Europa League.

“In years to come we may be a team capable of competing. But we have to be careful we don’t look too far ahead,” he said.

“There’s a big challenge ahead on Thursday. Antwerp have players returning from injury and they will be stronger.”

There’s a lingering feeling of discontent about the fixture congestion that Rangers had to deal with when they reached the 2008 UEFA Cup Final in Manchester.

Figures like then assistant manager, Ally McCoist, are still angry that calls to extend the season fell on deaf ears in the run-up to their defeat by Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Gerrard knows a similar scenario could present itself, but it’s not clear-cut.

He said: “We have to wait until the 1st of March to see what the situation is with the Scottish Cup.

“If the Cup was to go ahead and we are still in Europe, we may have to have a conversation with the authorities. But at the moment that is not the case.

“We are OK with the schedule as it is.”