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Stephen Craigan

Steven Gerrard is flying in Europe but needs a trophy to silence Rangers doubters

Stephen Craigan


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Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rollercoaster ride: Steven Gerrard has experienced a range of emotions as Rangers boss

Rangers produced a terrific performance against all the odds on Wednesday night in Braga to inflict their only home defeat in Europe this season and progress to the last-16 of the Europa League.

Braga should really have finished the tie in the first leg when 2-0 up but Rangers took the opportunities afforded to them and European football seems to bring the best out in these players.

They showed guts, desire and an ability to defend that has been severely lacking in recent domestic games.

The challenge for Gerrard now is to get his players to replicate that level of performance and heart into HIS biggest game as Rangers manager against Hearts in the Scottish Cup this evening.

When the manager signed his new four-year deal on December 12, it was anticipated that it was a contract that would bring long-awaited trophies back to Ibrox.

Fast forward less than three months since that day and Rangers' domestic season could incredibly be over if Hearts knock them out of the Cup. The fall-off in results and performances in Scotland has been unexplainable and really worrying as they struggle to regain their pre-Christmas form.

Everyone has been trying to work out what has gone wrong since the break and no one can come up with a logical answer. The players have simply been inconsistent and failed to live up to their potential. They have put themselves into this position and now they must rectify it, starting tonight.

With the League Cup already sitting in the trophy room at Celtic Park and the Premiership title certain to join it barring a catastrophic collapse by the Hoops, Gerrard and his players need to be in the hat for the next round, end of.

As a Rangers manager, challenging for major honours is the bare minimum but winning is a necessity if you're to have any longevity in the post.

Gerrard is at the point of needing silverware to convince his doubters due to the poor start to 2020 by his team.

Rangers fans are more split than they have ever been about their manager's capability to deliver trophies so everyone will be watching with intrigue. Defeat is unthinkable and memories will already be flooding back from last season when they exited at this stage against Aberdeen, so it can't happen again or serious questions will be asked of everyone.

Gerrard has been criticised in some circles for his outbursts after recent defeats and pointing the finger at individual players for their errors.

I have to admit I have no problem with Gerrard's stance or his approach. If players want to play for a club the size of Rangers then scrutiny and criticism is part of the job. If he sits back and says nothing then supporters will further question his judgment.

It's not as if the manager is speaking out of turn, it comes with the territory as a Rangers player I'm afraid. It's clear and obvious that individual mistakes have cost the team so the players have to accept whatever criticism comes their way and respond in the manner a player should do.

Use it as motivation to prove Gerrard wrong, show you have the character to come back from adversity rather than sitting back and feeling sorry for yourself.

On this evening's game itself, Rangers' league defeat at Tynecastle last month serves as a warning to the Light Blues players - if they're not up for a fight and a scrap then they are in trouble.

It will certainly not be a game for shrinking violets, it will be a typical cup tie played at a ferocious pace and all eyes will be on the Rangers players.

Will their quest to end the drought rage on or will they go out with a whimper?

Hoops will be hurting after letting golden chance pass by

Celtic failed to make it both Old Firm teams in the last-16 of the Europa League and they'll be kicking themselves. FC Copenhagen are a well-organised, hard-working side but they shouldn't have beaten a Hoops side that has been in terrific form.

No doubt Neil Lennon will have had a debrief with his players and the overriding emotion will be disappointment. They have missed a huge opportunity to go further in this tournament and it will be hurting the Ulsterman.

Celtic have only themselves to blame and over the two legs weren't clinical enough at both ends of the pitch and it's cost them.

Odsonne Edouard had a string of chances in the first match that could have put the tie to bed, but he passed them up and kept Copenhagen alive.

Then, on Thursday night, they showed a defensive vulnerability that hasn't been evident recently as Jozo Simunovic and Kristoffer Ajer made basic errors to hand Copenhagen the game.

Celtic's attention will now turn towards winning an amazing fourth consecutive domestic treble and that will naturally be the aim - however, in the cold light of day this defeat will take a while to get over.

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