What now for Steven Gerrard after his latest opportunity for silverware with Rangers slips from his grasp?

When Steven Gerrard speaks of his players having ‘credit in the bank’ this season, which he feels should spare them from any finger-pointing in their direction for the Betfred Cup exit at St Mirren, he employs an analogy which also applies to his two-and-a-half years as Rangers manager.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard reacts on the touchline during the Betfred Cup, Quarter Final at St Mirren Park, Paisley.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard reacts on the touchline during the Betfred Cup, Quarter Final at St Mirren Park, Paisley.

For all of the failure to win a domestic trophy since his arrival in the summer of 2018, which now stretches to seven consecutive competitions following the stunning 3-2 defeat in Paisley on Wednesday night, Gerrard’s achievements in the Europa League during the same period leave him firmly in the black as far as kudos from the Rangers directors is concerned.

But while the financial rewards of three consecutive group stage participations and beyond in Europe is crucial to the ongoing rejuvenation of the Ibrox club following the darkest chapter in their history, Gerrard is acutely aware that backing it up with the return of silverware to the trophy room is just as important to the full restoration of Rangers’ previous status and credibility.

Those around the boardroom table at Ibrox see a bigger picture when they assess the work Gerrard has done and continues to do at the club, the vast improvements he has established at the training ground and in the overall ethos of the unquestionably enhanced first team squad he has built.

Rangers believe they will be rewarded for the patience and faith they have shown in the former Liverpool and England captain, last year handing him a new contract which runs until 2024. Their conviction that Gerrard will ultimately prove himself to be an elite level manager will not be shaken by the setback in Paisley.

Yet, setback it most certainly was and not one that the 40-year-old was in any mood to try and brush aside lightly. In a Betfred Cup tournament littered with shock results, Gerrard looked to have been presented with an open goal this time around in his search for his first trophy win as Rangers boss.

Instead, a slipshod performance saw a rainy night at St Mirren Park added to the previous four unsuccessful domestic cup campaigns overseen by Gerrard. In his first season, Aberdeen were his nemesis as they beat Rangers in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden and again in a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Ibrox.

Last season, there was the agonising defeat to Celtic in a Betfred Cup Final which Rangers dominated, before a dismal Scottish Cup last eight exit against Hearts at Tynecastle which left Gerrard at the lowest ebb of his tenure so far.

All the evidence since the 2020-21 campaign began had suggested those kinds of experiences would be very much a thing of the past for Gerrard’s team. But the assured form and defensive solidity which saw them compile a 27-match unbeaten run in all competitions completely deserted them against a St Mirren side who managed to expose previously unseen weaknesses in Rangers’ set-up.

“A big, big opportunity has gone,” admitted Gerrard. “We will analyse the game - where we went right, where we went wrong.

“We dominated large parts of the game. We solved the problem St Mirren give you from the first whistle, which is to beat the block. We went in front with a fantastic goal. We didn’t build on that and conceded three sloppy goals.

“In cup football, you have to be better in possession, create more and go and execute. From a defensive point of view, you can’t defend how we defended as a group.”

Gerrard was adamant he should be held wholly culpable for the defeat, pointing out he was solely responsible for the team selection, tactics and substitutions on the night.

In hindsight, he may regret the choice of Calvin Bassey at left-back. The 20-year-old had been impressive in all of his previous first team outings but was given a torrid time by St Mirren, including the clumsy concession of the penalty which cancelled out Connor Goldson’s opener.

The wisdom of Rangers’ decision to accept a two-match ban for Alfredo Morelos, rather than wait for an SFA disciplinary hearing on Thursday, can also be pondered. Might the Colombian striker have made a difference on an evening when Rangers lacked bite in attack?

“There’s nothing I’m really going to gain by saying anything on that one,” was Gerrard’s response when asked about Morelos. “But I’m obviously really disappointed not to have him available.”

Morelos will be absent again when Rangers return to action against Motherwell at Ibrox on Saturday. It’s the start of a run of Premiership fixtures which will be hugely telling in assessing whether Gerrard’s men are the real deal in the title race this time around and can avoid the drop-off in performance levels which undermined his two previous tilts at dethroning Celtic.

If Rangers can emerge from the Old Firm match at Ibrox on January 2 with their current lead over the reigning champions either preserved or enhanced, the defeat in Paisley will be regarded as a blip rather than anything more significant or ominous from their perspective.

“We’ve got two choices now,” said Gerrard. “We either show a reaction from this and use the disappointment in a positive way, or we let it fester and it carries on to the next game.

“We’ve had tons of praise collectively for how we have defended (this season), how tough we have been to play against and also how good we have been going forward.

“The players have got more than enough credit in the bank, so this is where I have to step forward and take responsibility for it.”

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