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Rangers v Celtic: Ibrox boss urges his men to empty tank and give their all

 

Fitness battle: Rangers ace Gareth McAuley is racing against time in his bid to be available for the Old Firm clash at Ibrox
Fitness battle: Rangers ace Gareth McAuley is racing against time in his bid to be available for the Old Firm clash at Ibrox

By Andy Newport

Steven Gerrard has called on his Rangers players to give him one last push as they look to end 2018 on a high against Celtic.

Gers welcome Brendan Rodgers' champions to Ibrox today for their final clash before the winter break and Gerrard has demanded his team produce a better display than they managed on his Old Firm debut.

The former Liverpool skipper felt the Light Blues showed the side managed by his old Anfield boss far too much respect at Parkhead back in September and paid the price as Olivier Ntcham sealed a 1-0 win for the Hoops.

But this time Gerrard expects no half-measures, declaring: "We have to bring our 'A' game.

"We're playing against a good team who'll be well drilled. We know that we have to bring our best to get the result we want.

"I'm confident the players can do that. It's the last fixture, there's 90 minutes to empty it for and give everything you've got."

The Ibrox showdown will be Gers' 38th game of a gruelling season already and the effects of that heavy workload have started to show in recent weeks.

Gerrard's men have won just two of their last six league games but the manager believes a victory that would see Rangers join their arch rivals at the top of the table on 42 points would mean his team are back on track.

"We always said, certainly at the start of the season looking ahead to the first six months, that we wanted to be in this position," he said. "I feel we're a couple of results away from having the perfect six months.

"But this is an opportunity that if we can get the result we want it puts us where we need to be. I felt that during the first 45 minutes at Celtic Park we didn't give a true account of ourselves. We played in a shell and lacked a bit of bravery and belief.

"We grew into the game and improved as it went on but it wasn't enough.

"I think we've shown at Ibrox this season against high-level opposition that when we play with freedom, back ourselves and go out with confidence then we've played some really nice stuff. I hope the players can deliver that.

"I don't like losing and I don't want my players to enjoy losing. Of course, it's always going to linger with it being a derby. But you self-reflect, you analyse where it went wrong and what you can improve on then you look to address it in the next Old Firm. That's the opportunity."

Gerrard could do without the lengthy list of casualties that robbed him of several of his top stars for Wednesday's draw with Hibernian.

Connor Goldson became the latest addition when he limped off against Neil Lennon's side but Gerrard is willing to give the defender plus fellow doubts Gareth McAuley, Scott Arfield and Ryan Kent until the last minute to shake off their injury troubles.

"We've still got 24 hours to go and we'll give everyone up to the last possible moment," he said. "There's still two or three that are touch and go."

Meanwhile, Ryan Christie admits it would be an "amazing" end to the year for him if he could help Celtic beat Rangers today.

The 23-year-old attacker started 2018 on loan at Aberdeen with his Parkhead future uncertain.

However, after returning to the Hoops in the summer, Christie has subsequently established himself in Rodgers' squad and scored the only goal in the Betfred Cup final win over the Dons at Hampden Park earlier in the month, having signed a new three-year deal in November.

He has also become an integral part of Alex McLeish's Scotland set-up, after making his debut the previous year.

Christie was asked what it would mean to him to sign off the year with a victory today.

"It would be amazing," said the former Inverness player, who signed for Celtic in 2015. "It will be my first taste of Ibrox in a Celtic shirt if I'm lucky to play.

"I'm looking forward to that. It will be a hostile environment.

"It's something I have been used to in all different grounds with Celtic so it would be pretty special.

"It's a huge game at the weekend but if we come out of it with a win, it would show how well we have done this month."

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