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I wish I could play for Rangers fans, says boss Steven Gerrard

By Andy Newport

Steven Gerrard has talked up the Rangers support ahead of his side's Europa League second leg clash with Osijek at Ibrox.

The former Liverpool captain knows all about big European nights, having led the Reds to Champions League glory in 2005 and he's backing the Gers fans to create a big atmosphere as his side look to reach the third qualifying round.

Rangers are protecting a 1-0 lead, complete with away goal, from the first leg in Croatia. The prize on offer is a tie against either Chikhura Sachkhere or Maribor.

"I will pass on my experience to the boys of what to expect but it's about these lads, they should relish this opportunity with the chance for them to go and perform in front of a full-house at Ibrox," Gerrard said.

"If you're a top player it should get your juices flowing. I wish I was playing in it."

Gerrard is also adamant his new Rangers side will not crack under the Ibrox strain this season.

Former bosses Pedro Caixinha and Graeme Murty both questioned the mental strength of the Light Blues squad last season as they lurched from one crisis to another.

Caixinha accused his players of "embarrassing" him and the club after defeat to Motherwell in the Betfred Cup semi-finals while Murty admitted March's 3-2 loss to Celtic sent his side into a tailspin.

New manager Gerrard has attempted to eradicate that flaw by clearing out 14 first-teamers this summer.

"I only know what I've seen from day one," he said. "I didn't know the mentality from last year and I only know the mentality of the clubs I've been involved with and played for.

"What I can assure you is the mentality will be strong this year because I'll only have players and characters who want to fight and want to win, who are hungry.

"Yes I want them to be free and express themselves too but above all, I want winners all over the pitch as well as on my bench pushing the people in front of them.

"That for me means you have a good mentality in the group."

Gerrard's men rounded off their pre-season preparations with a 3-0 win over Wigan on Sunday but he was far from happy with their showing in the opening 45 minutes against the Latics.

And he warned a repeat against Osijek could cost them a shot at facing Maribor of Slovenia or Georgian outfit Chikhura Sachkhere in the third qualifying round.

"The most important thing for me was that the players knew themselves," he said. "Going along and chatting to them, hearing them speak amongst themselves, they knew that the first half against Wigan wasn't good enough - it was short of what is expected here.

"They know if they turn up and perform against Europa League teams and are second best, we'll be knocked out.

"But the players knew that themselves and that tells me they want to improve, that they want the standard to be higher and are starting to understand the responsibilities for playing for this football club.

"What has gone before us has been top, top football teams who have been successful. This is a club full of history and tradition and when you sign up for it, you buy into the fact you have to keep your standards as high as possible."

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