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

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