GOLDSON NEEDS TO BE OUT OF FIRING LINE
RANGERS Gerrard admits centre-back will need to come out of firing line with McAuley fit
CONNOR Goldson is one of the key building blocks of Steven Gerrard’s Rangers team. The former Brighton defender has been omitted from just one match all season long, the 4-0 Betfred Cup meeting against Championship outfit Ayr United, and generally impressed in most of them. He even captained the side against St Mirren at Ibrox earlier in the season, scoring in the process.
But the Rangers manager accepts there will come a time when the 25-year-old will need to be taken out of the firing line for his own protection. Coming off a game in Moscow where the Ibrox side shipped four goals and his botched clearance for an own goal left his manager saying even ‘Under-12 and Under-13 players can clear the ball with either foot’, perhaps that time may not be so far away.
Whether or not tomorrow – facing a belt-and-braces Motherwell side who will subject them to an aerial onslaught – is the correct time or not, the 25 matches Goldson has already played this season is comfortably more than his tally for the last two seasons combined down at Brighton and Hove Albion. He is one of four central defenders at the club, with Northern Ireland international Gareth McAuley finally ready for some playing time after a frustrating early part of his Ibrox career.
It should probably be stated at this point that Rangers’ defensive record domestically, with 10 goals conceded in 11 matches, is tied with Aberdeen for the joint third best in the league behind Celtic and Livingston.
“Connor is constantly in my face saying: ‘Don’t give me a rest, don’t give me a rest, don’t give me a rest,” said Gerrard. “But there will be a time when I have got to help him. He won’t like that but it is my job.
“He is slightly different to the others, we knew we were buying Connor at his age and where he is at – him being a Premier League defender – it was about building a defence around him and James [Tavernier],” added Gerrard. “Obviously Nikola [Katic] has been bought for the future but has really started well and taken to life pretty
‘‘ Katic is probably further ahead than we actually thought
quickly. He is probably further ahead than we actually thought he would be but will be managed slightly differently to Connor.
“Joe [Worrall] was an opportunity, I was aware of him as a player and we were obviously looking for a player who could play on the left side as well. We were mainly looking for three centrebacks but when the opportunity came to sign Gareth it wasn’t a big financial outlay, he was desperate to come and it just made sense to cover our backs. If we are to get an injury I think the McAuley signing might turn out to be a good one.”
While Gerrard admits the rigours of a long season – particularly if the club progresses in Europe beyond Christmas – will test the resources of players who haven’t always been mainstays for their clubs, adding the former West Brom centrehalf McAuley after the transfer deadline could yet pay dividends.
“Will we see more of him?” said Gerrard of McAuley (inset). “Well, he is ready now.
“Obviously when he came in he had had a really big summer lay off because he didn’t know where his future lay. He went away with Northern Ireland to try to get some volume of work in but came back with an injury which set him back. But he has been on the training pitch now for close to a month and we have put some games in his legs behind closed doors. I think he has played three 90 minutes now and another 45 on top of that. So he is available now.
But we have four centre-halves and they all knew what we were looking for at the start of the season. It is good to have him available and I would have no problem putting him in now, while a month ago he wasn’t ready.
“His experience could be invaluable – in certain situations for sure. We know his strengths, we realise where he is in his career. He is a big Rangers fan who wanted this move. He realised it would be a squad player situation so he is professional and has been patient and there will be times when we need his experience and his knowhow. Maybe that might be from a beginning of a match or to see a game out, or against a certain opponent who might come and try to bombard us.”
That could be a hint that he plays against Motherwell, considering the fact Rangers – lined up in a three at the back – didn’t convince their manager under the high ball the last time they faced them, a day that ended in a 3-3 draw at Fir Park.
“I thought we were found wanting at set pieces and that’s why we dropped two points,” said Gerrard. “In general play we were the better team. We scored three fantastic goals but we gifted them a goal with a bit of cruel luck.
“I felt for Connor, I’ve been in those positions myself, but we gifted a goal from a free kick when we didn’t get tight and mark well enough. Then we conceded with the last kick of the game when we had enough people capable to deal with it, and I actually added an experienced player to deal with that corner. We weren’t able to do it. We didn’t handle Motherwell’s physicality well enough.”
Gerrard hopes the wide open spaces of Ibrox will make for a different kind of match this time around. “It’s quite clear they will come and be quite physical and direct at times. If they play like they have recently they’ll play two up top who are mobile and will try to rough us up. We have to cope with that. Wwe want to sustain the attack in their half of the pitch, keep them as far away as possible from our goal as we can.
“It’s difficult to do at Motherwell due to their style, the crowd, the tight pitch. Long balls are going to land in front of your goal there, but that’s the challenge away from home. So we will be looking to keep the ball better and make it more about us than Motherwell.
Having been so close to recording a famous win when they led 3-2 at half-time in the Spartak Stadium, Gerrard admits there is a danger of a hangover. “The challenge for me now is to try and get as much energy into the players physically and get them right mentally,” said Gerrard. “Because we put a lot into Thursday night without any reward and the players were frustrated in the dressing room. It’s important we don’t have any hangover. Try and approach Sunday as fresh as we can.”
Connor Goldson scored an own goal against Spartak Moscow on Thursday
Steven Gerrard (right) says ring-rusty Connor Goldson may need some time out of the team to recuperate soon