When Steven Gerrard said: "Obviously Villarreal was a very important game but for me the league is the priority," following the 2-2 draw in Spain I found myself nodding in agreement with the manager, not for the first time since he’s taken over.
Thus far, there can be no denying that there has been an increase in quality added throughout the playing squad, and maybe even more important than that their has been a mentality change throughout the whole club. No longer is doing just enough to get by deemed acceptable. It’s been a long time coming as well. Going back to the Steven Gerrard quote, however, I will again reiterate that he is spot on.
Getting into the Europa League group stages was a massive effort and yes, it is great financially and having sides with a decent European pedigree come to Ibrox. And, it’s obviously advantageous for the players’ personal development and growth to face challenges from different teams and styles, but at the moment, doing anything serious in a European competition seems a long way away and in truth, it probably is. We will be doing really well to get out of this group, especially as most fans, pundits and commentators felt that we would fail to get there. So, even at this early stage where Europe is concerned, you could feasible say this team has overachieved.
With us being Rangers fans, we will be looking to progress. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s pleasing to see that a winning attitude and hunger is being shown on the pitch as well as in the stands this season so far. This season, though, the league title and a credible challenge is rightly the priority. Given the start and the momentum we have built up especially in the last two matches, winning against Livingston on Sunday is absolutely vital to keep the momentum building. Because if Rangers can keep the momentum building and keep the good results coming, as Gary McAlister always says, “anything can happen” and he’s right in that regard.
You only have to look at the season when Leicester City won the English Premier League to validate that point. Furthermore, it shows how momentum can help propel the belief of a football club to new heights. For us, though, it’s about getting to the former heights of being the best side in the country – where we feel the club should be.
Also, Sunday’s match represents the chance for Gerrard and his squad to win three league games in a row, and grab his first league away win as Rangers boss. Given it took us until the back end of November last season to win three league matches in a row and we are contemplating doing it at the end of September, especially with the way the fixtures have fell, that itself is a sign of progress, albeit incremental.
I always felt a number of things had to go in our favour if the Gerrard experiment had to work and give us the opportunity of taking part in a genuine title race this season. Firstly we had to sort out a multitude of issues from the previous season, mainly the 50 goals we conceded in the league alone. Gerrard and Mark Allen have taken care of that, really well I must admit Nikola Katic and Connor Goldson have formed a superb partnership, especially at Ibrox where we have conceded just three goals in eight matches across all competitions – not including friendlies.
It’s cliché but if you don’t concede goals, you don’t lose games.
Secondly, I had hoped the Gerrard effect would give everyone a lift. That’s undoubtedly been the case, not only to the fans but the players are playing for him and are buying into what he’s trying to do and putting it into practice. We had to hit the ground running and it’s fair to say without picking up as many points as we would have liked at this stage, the start to the season has been more than decent. Lastly, we needed Celtic to drop off, hit a bump in the road, and experience some turbulence for the first time under Rodgers. That’s happened as well, maybe a little quicker than anyone would have expected.
They have gone out the Champions League and they look like a team who are nearing the end of a cycle, whilst we are on the upward trajectory ready to start a new cycle and give them a run for their money title race-wise.
In the summer of 2016, the club used a season ticket marketing ploy “Going for 55.” We’ve had to wait to a few seasons and had numerous failings on the field of play, but maybe this time that slogan is now going to mean something and become reality. It has to because at this point in time, we’ve never had a better and more realistic chance of actually following through with it.
And that is why winning 55 and eliminating the stranglehold that Celtic have on Scottish football is more important than a European run.
The tide is slowly turning and Rangers have to take full advantage. If they do manage it, Dave King’s “house of cards” comment may be proven to be correct.
Jamie Currie (jamiecurrie89)