here will be more interest than normal in Steven Gerrard’s team selection for the visit of Hibernian to Ibrox Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With the question uppermost in the minds of many amongst the Light Blue legions whether or not the manager opts to recall leading scorer Alfredo Morelos, now free from suspension.
Such a question a matter of months ago would surely have been unthinkable, so crucial to the ‘Gers fortunes was the Columbian striker, but four successive wins in recent weeks against opposition of the calibre of Hearts (twice), Motherwell and Aberdeen with an aggregate score of 11-1 without Morelos have led many to question whether the Ibrox men are in actual fact a better team minus the services of their talismanic striker.
Only Gerrard himself will know for sure what is in his mind as far as the starting line-up for this game is concerned – but the safe money will arguably be on Alfredo being named as a substitute in the first instance, if only to underline that the club are not entirely reliant on his services and to emphasise the folly of his disciplinary indiscretions.
The manager suggested as much as he reflected on the decision.
“We have a big squad here and it is quite healthy at the moment, so people are pushing for positions in the team all over the pitch.
“That’s my job - what I get paid to do is to make big decisions. In any area of the team, if you play well, then you deserve to keep the shirt.
“So, I will always be loyal to players in that situation.”
Visitors Hibernian currently lie fifth in the division with 54 points from 35 games – and remarkably remain unbeaten in Premiership fixtures under new manager Paul Heckingbottom, a run that has produced an accumulated 22 points from thirty games, with European qualification still a possibility.
The three previous clashes between the two clubs have remarkably all ended all square despite Rangers dominating each and every one. Two impressive performances from the Light Blues in Leith ended goalless in December with Neil Lennon in charge at Easter Road and 1-1 in March when a late and controversial equaliser from Florian Kamberi denied Gerrard’s men a deserved three points. Similarly, former ‘Ger Darren McGregor snatched a share of the points in the dying minutes of a 1-1 draw at Ibrox on Boxing Day.
There has been little love lost between the two over recent years with two seasons of bitter Championship battles in 2014-15 and 2015-16, not least of which of course the 2016 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden.
Over the past two campaigns with both now restored to what many would regard as their rightful place in the top division Hibernian have edged the honours in seven encounters with two Ibrox wins under Neil Lennon to one Light Blue success under then Interim Manager Graeme Murty, the other four ending in draws.
Goals have certainly never been in short supply in clashes over the past two Premiership seasons with 25 goals netted in seven fixtures. Regardless of the score-line, Steven Gerrard and a capacity Ibrox audience will expect a first win of the season over their Edinburgh rivals and a fifth successive League win for Rangers.
Meanwhile one piece of welcome news for the Light Blue legions has been the one-year deal signed by Northern Ireland Internationalist Steven Davis, the midfielder having been in outstanding form in recent weeks. The Ibrox Boss was delighted with the extension.
“We always had an idea we would try make it longer than six months – but you can see he is back in top form, and he has been consistent certainly over the last four or five weeks. So we are pleased for Steven and with a full pre-season under his belt, I am sure he will be ready to help us challenge for major honours next year.”
Gerrard meanwhile has received the ‘Manager of the Month’ award for April – but he was quick to pay tribute to his coaching staff.
“I think they should rename the award ‘Coaching Team of the Month’ to be honest. I obviously get great support on a daily basis and round the clock from my staff.
It was a double award for the club with Scott Arfield named as ‘Player of the Month’ – and his gaffer was full of praise for the midfielder.
“I think Scott certainly deserves his award. He has been - by far - the best player in the League over the last four to five weeks scoring and creating goals, but not just that – the work he does off the ball for the team and he has been an absolute pleasure to coach.
“I think it recognises how well the team are playing and all the hard work which has gone in to reaching this level - but we want to continue to keep improving, move forward and get stronger.”