The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Cheers for Duffy as Goldson eyes glory
THE longest, lustiest cheers from the returning Rangers faithful were reserved, cruelly if predictably, for a certain Shane Duffy. The loudest cry of the day from within Ibrox, though, very much came from Connor Goldson.
For the supporters allowed inside the ground yesterday afternoon, there was more than enough in this stalemate to maintain interest levels.
Rangers ran the game, Nikola Katic made his first appearance after more than a year out when replacing Jack Simpson at the break, Fashion Sakala delivered a lively cameo on the right of the frontline as a substitute and Duffy’s very presence offered wonderful sport.
Loaned out by Brighton to Celtic for their ill-fated shot at ten in a row — and promptly dumped before the end of the season after some catastrophic displays — Duffy’s grand return to Glasgow was only 14 seconds old when his interception of a Scott Wright pass saw all sides of the stadium rise in his honour.
On and on it went. Roars every time the ball went near him. One or two choruses of ‘One Shane Duffy’. By Jove, football can be an unforgiving old business at times.
Mercifully for the Irishman, Brighton brought on an entirely new team for the second half, sparing him any further discomfort and allowing him to wallow in a rare clean sheet.
He gave the home fans plenty of entertainment, for sure. It was an interview with Goldson aired by the club TV channel in the hours leading up to kick-off, however, that generated perhaps the greatest excitement of the day.
Manager Steven Gerrard stated on Friday that he was hopeful Goldson would sign a new contract despite the uncertainty created by him entering the final year of his existing deal without having struck an agreement.
The 28-year-old centre-half did not go quite as far as stating an announcement was imminent. In truth, he wasn’t asked about that burning issue by the in-house media team, which often tends to be the problem with in-house media teams.
However, his talk of dominating Scottish football for the foreseeable future after winning a 55th title for the Light Blues last season and going on to stretch that tally to 57 or 58 certainly created the impression he does see his long-term future at Rangers.
It also sent out a thunderous statement of intent from within the club, as a whole, ahead of next weekend’s big kick-off.
‘I am desperate for the season to start,’ said Goldson. ‘We are working hard every day. It’s been tough so far, but we want to go on and try and dominate in Scotland.
‘I don’t see why we can’t. If we can get to the levels we were last season, when we were as hungry as we have ever been, we have a good chance.
‘We know we have made history but now do we want to go and dominate or be known as the team who won 55? Do we want to go and win 56, 57 or 58, or be known as the team who won 55?
‘Personally, that’s where my head is at and the gaffer will be drilling it home every day to make us go on and dominate. You can only imagine what it will be like with a full house at Ibrox when we are winning trophies and playing in the Champions League.’
Goldson played the last 19 minutes of yesterday’s visit of his former club Brighton and will no doubt start in this afternoon’s visit of Real Madrid.
The shadow Rangers side that opened the match started brightly, though, with Cedric Itten, surely out to stake a claim given the uncertainty over chief striker Alfredo Morelos’ future, presented with an early chance.
Brighton goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen was left in no-man’s land after advancing from his line with the ball falling to Itten just inside the area. He tried to sidefoot it home with some delicacy, but Duffy, of all people, was stationed under the crossbar to clear.
The chances came thick and fast for Rangers in the first 20 minutes with Leon Balogun seeing a header saved by Scherpen and Wright then being denied by the keeper.
Jordan Jones stung the Dutchman’s hands with a crisp drive before Brighton woke up and offered a few warning signals in the closing ten minutes of the opening 45.
Right-back Marc Leonard caught the home defence square with a diagonal ball and goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin had to act sharply to sprint from his goal and clear 25 yards out from Aaron Connolly.
Just a matter of minutes later, though, Connolly did get on the end of a Leonard pass after timing his run — only to screw an effort wide.
Rangers continued to make the running after the interval with sub John Lundstram smashing a terrific effort off the post from 20 yards.
Sakala, Jermain Defoe and Borna Barisic, back from the Euros while Morelos remains absent in the wake of the Copa America, were introduced shortly afterwards.
Ianis Hagi, on for Scott Arfield, did have the ball in the net with a shot from distance 11 minutes from time, but referee Don Robertson had blown for an earlier foul.
‘You could see the improvement from the Arsenal game and we were dominant for large spells,’ said Gerrard. ‘It’s a special day for Niko. He thinks he is ready now but we have to respect the injury.
‘Fashion is only a week in and that’s after being in a hotel room for ten days, which is tough. You could see in the box he wants to get shots off, so that’s another positive.’
RANGERS (4-3-3): McLaughlin; Patterson (Tavernier 71), Balogun (Goldson 71), Simpson (Katic 46), Bassey (Barisic 63); Kelly (Davis 71), Kamara (Lundstram 46), Arfield (Hagi 46); Wright (Defoe 63), Itten (Sakala 63), Jones (Kent 71). Subs (not used): McCrorie.
BRIGHTON (4-2-3-1): Scherpen (Steele 46); Leonard (Alzate 46), Duffy (Ostigard 46), Burn (Furlong 46), Zeqiri (Tsoungui 46); Mwepu (Richards 46), Gross (Bissouma 46); Khandra (Walton 46), Maupay (March 46), Lallana (Tau 46); Connolly (Andone 46). Subs (not used): Tanimowo, Wellbeck.
Referee: Don Robertson.