Steven Gerrard says Rangers’ number nine slot is Jermain Defoe’s to lose after watching the veteran hitman send his side on their way to victory over Hearts.
The 36-year-old fired the Light Blues ahead at Tynecastle, with Ryan Jack and Nikola Katic also finding the net.
Rangers’ 3-1 win means Celtic can no longer wrap up the Ladbrokes Premiership title at Hibernian on Sunday but all Gerrard cared about was his side’s “near-perfect performance”.
The only downside for the former Liverpool skipper was Steven MacLean’s late strike but the display of Defoe in particular left the manager purring.
The former England ace was starting for the third match running as Alfredo Morelos serves out a four-match ban following his red card in last month’s Old Firm defeat.
But Gers have barely missed their top scorer during that time after racking up nine goals and three wins during the Colombian’s absence.
Now Gerrard has warned Morelos he should not expect to walk straight back into the team after serving the final leg of his suspension against Aberdeen next week.
He said: “At times we have been too reliant on Alfredo but I’m not surprised by Jermain’s performance. He’s got unbelievable quality and if you play a system that suits Jermain, he will get you goals.
“You can tell defenders are scared to get too close to him because of his quality. He’s contributing whether it’s goals or assists. He’s got the number nine shirt at the moment, it’ll be interesting how he performs from now until the end of the season.
“It goes for anyone, not just in the number nine position. I don’t pick on reputation and name. The first six months of the season Alfredo was in that good form it just made sense to bring him back after being out, there wasn’t really anyone challenging for that number nine.
“There’s a challenge there now. There’s a player playing with high confidence, creating chances and scoring goals. That’s the way Rangers should be, we should have options in that area – especially this area.”
Gerrard was also delighted with his midfield three of Steve Davis, Jack and Glen Kamara.
It was former Dundee ace Kamara’s pass that put Defoe through on 15 minutes, while Jack started and finished the move that brought the second just before half-time. Davis also had a hand in the third as Katic finished the game as a contest three minutes after the restart.
“The midfield complement each other very well,” he said. “There is a bit of everything in there.
“You’ve got Davis’ quality and range of passing. You’ve got Kamara who’s an absolute steal for £50,000, I can’t believe we got him. He’s going to be an incredible player if he keeps learning.
“And Jack has been my most consistent midfielder from the start of the season, I can’t figure out why he doesn’t get more Scotland caps. I can’t understand that.”
Craig Levein blamed his side’s misfiring pressing game as the Scottish Cup finalists failed on their first audition to stake a claim for a place at Hampden next month.
“I hope the players haven’t switched off after reaching the final,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to play for between now and the cup final – including places in the team.
“Pressing in the way we tried means you go all in. There’s no worrying about what’s behind you. You just need to go and we were too safe in what we did.
“We didn’t commit completely to it and the result is what you saw.”