Graham Ruthven: Rangers can’t be Old Firm cowards, like earlier in the year

Celtic travel to Ibrox to take on their greatest rivals on Saturday and Graham Ruthven feels Rangers need to be bold to win the Old Firm derby…

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Before making the trip to Celtic Park at the start of September, Steven Gerrard had yet to suffer defeat as Rangers manager.

The Ibrox club’s season started in early July and so by the time Gerrard faced his maiden Old Firm derby, he already had 12 games under his belt. Not one of those games was an Old Firm derby, though.

Before taking on Celtic for the first time this season, Rangers had scored eight goals over their last three domestic games.

Gerrard’s side were finding their attacking groove, and yet they fell all the way out of it when faced with their nearest and fiercest rivals.

At best, Rangers were toothless. At worst, they were cowardly.

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Much of this was down to the level of Celtic’s performance, with Brendan Rodgers’ side unwilling to concede an inch, but Gerrard’s tactics were also a factor.

He overthought his strategy, going conservative rather than trusting the attacking potency of his players, as he should have. Alfredo Morelos and Kyle Lafferty had only scraps to feed off.

It must be different this weekend. Of course, as the home side in front of their own supporters the onus to attack will naturally be on Rangers.

But more than that, Gerrard needs a win for himself.

He has a point to prove and a second successive defeat to Celtic would only add to the criticism of the 38-year-old that is starting to mount.

Gerrard has been left frustrated by his team’s failure to make their place at the top of the Scottish Premiership table, where they have been more than once this season, stick. Just in the past month, Rangers have dropped points to Aberdeen, Dundee and Hibernian twice.

Had they won when they were expected to, the Ibrox side might even have a lead over Celtic ahead of Saturday’s Old Firm.

Rarely does Gerrard himself take responsibility for such shortcomings, though.

Instead, the former midfielder allows his exasperation to bubble to the surface and that has led some to question whether Gerrard has the temperament to handle management at a lower level than he was a player.

Gerrard told his players after the Scottish League Cup semi-final defeat to Aberdeen that they would be shipped out if they did not improve.

Another defeat to Aberdeen prompted Gerrard to demand that his players “show the club respect,” once again reiterating that anyone not pulling their weight would be axed.

This is a sentiment that has been echoed by the Rangers boss many times over the season, despite the Ibrox club completely rebuilding their squad just six months ago. He has already been backed by the Rangers board, but that hasn’t stopped him offering a transfer market ultimatum to his players.

For the time being, though, Gerrard must make the best use of what he has.

Rangers are good enough to trouble Celtic, but only if Gerrard has the utmost belief in his players.

This is something that hasn’t always been forthcoming from the Gers boss. One wonders if Gerrard has made a mistake in treating his players so harshly, but this weekend’s derby presents all with a shot at redemption.

Celtic hold a three-point lead, complete with a game in-hand, over their greatest rivals at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

This season has raised the prospect of a title race, but a Celtic win on Saturday would see the defending champions move that bit closer to an eighth straight league championship.

Rangers were cowardly in their approach to the last Old Firm derby back in September.

This time, they must be bolder.

They must approach the match with the intention to win, not just to not lose. Gerrard doesn’t just have the mistakes of recent weeks to atone for, but the mistakes of the last time Rangers faced Celtic.

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