The nature of Rangers’ success over Celtic continues to resonate more than the fact it transpired at all. Steven Gerrard’s team were comprehensive in their dismissal of Celtic – away from home, too – in an encounter which has fuelled theories of Rangers claiming a first top-flight title since 2011.
For Gerrard this marked a significant moment, arriving a season and a half into his management career. The former Liverpool captain has revealed detail of the message delivered to his players at half-time at Celtic Park, with the game level at 1-1.
“I just said to them to go and play the second 45 minutes and reward yourself for the last six months of hard work,” Gerrard said. “Go back to the first day of pre-season and how do you want to feel walking out of this stadium? Do you want to reward yourself for six months of real hard graft and get a result that the majority of the first half deserved? And that the previous 90 minutes against this team deserved. I think they went out and delivered.”
Gerrard resisted calls to declare his team as potential champions. Instead he insisted progressing to the next round of the Scottish Cup, which will be Rangers’ task after the winter break now under way, is a priority. The 39-year-old admits, though, that his team have progressed.
“The plan is to try and make it go the distance; that is the plan,” Gerrard said of the league. “But there is a lot of football to be played and a lot of challenges, big challenges, home and away. There are two other competitions in amongst that and that is for me to try and navigate through with the players and try and do the best we can. But the plan is to try and put in the best fight we can until the end.”
What Gerrard cannot affect, of course, is Celtic’s response. Rangers are now two points behind their oldest foes with a game in hand. Celtic, though, are expected to invest to a higher degree than their rivals during the transfer window.
“Listen, the fans are going to be the fans,” Gerrard said. “I can only say that by no way, shape or form do we in that dressing room think that we have achieved anything [against Celtic] besides a big three points and a big win. We deserve credit for that and we will enjoy that, but that is all it is. We respect the challenge.
“I have got characters. The team needed a spine, a lot of change, it needed big players who weren’t scared of the big occasion. It had some and it had a few that were coming to the end that I wished were 10 years younger, like Kenny Miller. But there were a lot of changes that needed to happen. We had to virtually wipe it clean over two or three transfer windows. We are still not finished. We need to keep building, keep getting stronger, keep learning. But now I look at this team and it is different from the one I inherited by a long way.”
Gerrard defended the actions of Michael Beale, his first-team coach, who was sent off in stoppage time after an altercation with the Celtic assistant manager, John Kennedy. “I think you have got to respect the position that we are in as well,” Gerrard said.
“It is an emotional game; the referee ends up playing more than the four minutes that were on there. We get a red card [for Alfredo Morelos] and there is one [against Morelos] that was blatant. Understand being in our shoes, it is an emotional time. I am not going to make any apologies. This is new to some of us so we are not going to get everything perfect, not going to get everything right. My staff and my players have been fantastic and that is all I want to say.”
The fallout from Morelos’s sending off continued on Monday as Rangers, while also repeating calls for VAR to be introduced in Scotland, hit out at alleged racist abuse of the striker. “We believe Alfredo was racially abused and we would expect now that all measures will be taken to identify and deal with those responsible.”
Celtic responded with a statement which read: “We are aware of the gestures made by the player towards Celtic supporters. We have received no reports of any racial abuse but would fully investigate any should these be brought to our attention.”
Morelos made some gestures with his hand across his throat as he made his way off and up the tunnel. Rangers insisted the striker’s actions had been misinterpreted.