Steven Gerrard expecting a tough Europa League test for Rangers

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. Ian Rutherford/PA Wire

For Steven Gerrard and Rangers, the disappointment of the lost opportunity at Aberdeen will be put aside as the Light Blues welcome Maribor to Ibrox on Thursday evening in the first leg of the Europa League round three qualifier.

The fact that Alfredo Morelos has won his appeal against the twelfth minute red card issued at Pittodrie by referee Kevin Clancy only serves to emphasise the feeling of injustice highlighted post-match by the Rangers Manager – but the visit of the Slovenians will ensure that the focus of both Gerrard and his team will be on attempting to build a lead to take to Maribor one week hence.

No strangers to either Ibrox Stadium or indeed to Scottish Football, the Slovenians have enjoyed a remarkable record against Scots clubs with the only reversal being the original clash against Dick Advocaat’s Rangers back in 2000-01.

Since then, Celtic, Aberdeen, Hibernian and Ally McCoist’s Rangers in 2011-12 have fallen against Maribor – a statistic that only serves to underline the challenge facing the Ibrox club in the coming week.

“It will be a difficult challenge for us,” said Gerrard.

“They’re a good team and they have a bit of Champions League experience – I’m sure they’re feeling very confident as they had a big win at the weekend domestically, 5-2, so I’m sure they’re coming to Ibrox in a good place.”

As with any European tie it will be important for Rangers to avoid conceding the loss of an away goal as well as securing a lead to carry to Maribor with the lure of the Europa League group stage is tantalisingly close but still out of reach.

“It would be magnificent for everyone connected with the club,” said Gerrard.

“Certainly, for the fans to have the chance to have European football here for a lot longer than the qualifiers would be great.

“However, I think the important thing is that we focus on Maribor and don’t get too far ahead of ourselves. I think it’s very dangerous when you start thinking too far down the line, so we will have two very difficult tests against Maribor.

“For me, the message to the players is to focus on Thursday night and let’s try and get the result there first. The team are in a good place, we’re feeling confident and we’re growing all the time. I think these games coming thick and fast are a reward for how we have started as a squad.”

The arrival of Borna Barisic from Europa League rivals Osijek – the eleventh signing of the Steven Gerrard Era – is one that has excited the Light Blue legions who were impressed with the Croatian Internationalist in both ties against Rangers. Gerrard outlined the thinking behind his signing.

“We knew the player. As soon as we were drawn against Osijek I learned that their main threat was Borna Barisic,” he said.

“I think the club have performed very well in the last few days in terms of securing that signing - the reason being that we had to act very quickly because there were many, many teams trying to chase his services. I think that goes to show what type of player we’ve brought in the door.

“He’s an international player. He was included in the final thirty in the Croatia squad for the World Cup that went on to reach the final.

“I think he’s got potential to get back into that squad and that set-up with the Croatian national team and I think this platform will help him do that.”

Ryan Jack is an injury doubt, having suffered a head knock at Pittodrie – if unavailable then he could well be replaced by Ross McCrorie.

Meanwhile with midfielder Greg Docherty having signed for Shrewsbury Town on a season-long loan and with the English transfer window closing on Thursday – much earlier than elsewhere – the Ibrox Boss will be relieved if his squad is not weakened by any sudden, last-minute departures.