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Stephen Craigan

Steven Gerrard must carry can for Rangers' slump, but players need to look in the mirror

Stephen Craigan


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In spotlight: Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has to take responsibility for Rangers’ downfall

In spotlight: Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has to take responsibility for Rangers’ downfall

PA

Scott Brown

Scott Brown

PA

In spotlight: Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has to take responsibility for Rangers’ downfall

In football, pressure either inspires players individually and collectively or it affects performances and puts the fear into teams.

In Glasgow, the difference between Celtic and Rangers and how they've dealt with the pressure over the last few weeks couldn't be greater.

On December 29, after Celtic lost the Old Firm derby, the attention and focus intensified on Neil Lennon and his players. For some, it seemed they had come to the end of the road and their dominance was on the verge of switching to the other side of the city.

Their winter training camp in Dubai would have been a time for reflection, a bit of soul searching and some meetings to determine how they would approach the second half of the season.

Everyone would be looking to see how this side would react in adversity; could they handle a Rangers team on the up? They were on their coat tails in a captivating race for the Scottish Premiership crown and the question was could Celtic rise to the challenge ahead?

Well, they have unequivocally answered that question alright, and that pressure alone has brought the best out in Lennon and his squad. They look energised, focused and relentless in their quest for continued silverware.

The squad is packed with serial winners who have been over the course many times before, the likes of Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and James Forrest. They will have been pivotal during the discussions over the break.

The anger and frustration of how they finished 2019 has inspired and stimulated an already talented bunch of footballers. Their winning mentality has shone through, unlike their city rivals.

The momentum and belief Rangers built up in the six months prior to the break has been destroyed in a matter of three weeks. They are a shadow of the team they were in the early part of the season and look consumed with fear.

The question is, what's gone wrong?

It isn't as simple as pointing at one specific thing that has suddenly changed; it's a culmination of factors.

For a start, it looks like the expectancy placed on them has weighed them down over the past few weeks and it's become a burden. Football doesn't look enjoyable for them at the minute, which is a major concern.

Beating your rivals in a one-off game doesn't entitle you to become champions, it's a starting point that you can build from; but it must be backed up with the same level of performance and Rangers haven't been able to reach those standards since for some reason.

The intensity of their play isn't what it was, it's been too laboured and teams have found them too easy to play against. Players are taking the easy option in possession and playing too many negative passes rather than taking accountability and looking to penetrate as they were previously.

They look to have a soft underbelly physically when teams go up against them and that was highlighted in their recent defeat against Hearts at Tynecastle.

Steven Gerrard said so himself after that game and it was highlighted again on Wednesday night at Kilmarnock. Teams aren't going to roll over because it's Rangers, you have to earn the right to win a game of football and on those two occasions they didn't do that.

Celtic's unrelenting form in 2020 has also played a part because they currently look unbeatable and that's tested Rangers' resolve and mentality.

The need to win while not playing well has eluded them, and that requirement, which the Bhoys have placed on them, has seen them crumble.

What part does Gerrard have in it all?

He signed the players, he picks the team and it's his tactics so that's 100% his domain. He absolutely carries the can for that, however his players have to take the responsibility upon themselves when things are going wrong on the pitch to stand up and be counted.

They have to be brave on the ball, have the dedication to put their head in where it hurts, show a desire not to be beaten, defend properly and match the endeavour of their opponents before they even think of the tactical side.

Time will tell if they can salvage their season, but, as it stands, the omens don't look good.

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