Steven Gerrard has warned Old Firm specialist Ryan Kent he will not let sentiment sway him as he prepares to pick his Rangers line-up for Saturday’s derby clash with Celtic.
Former Liverpool ace Kent started the season on fire but his productivity has slipped in recent weeks and he found himself on the bench for Wednesday’s 2-0 win at St Mirren.
Ianis Hagi took his slot on the left and added an assist for Kemar Roofe’s opener to the two goals he has scored recently against St Johnstone and Hibernian.
Alfredo Morelos was also back in Gerrard’s starting XI to score his first league goal since September, leaving Gerrard to admit he has a selection dilemma on his hands as he looks to name a side capable of stretching Gers’ current 16-point lead over Neil Lennon’s Hoops even further.
Kent has saved his best displays for the showdowns with the Parkhead side. He tormented Mikael Lustig before laying on Ryan Jack’s winner in the corresponding fixture to this weekend’s clash back in 2018, while he has twice netted at Celtic Park.
But Gerrard says he is only interested in current form.
“Yes (I’ve got a selection dilemma) but I’ve had a selection dilemma since the first game of the season,” said the Ibrox boss.
“We’ve got good players all fighting for positions. There are good players not getting on the pitch who have been doing well.
“That’s the squad you need at Rangers. My job is to pick the team. I don’t pick it on sentiment, I pick it on players I think will get the job done.
“I’ve got tough decisions to make at the weekend but I’m not the first Rangers manager to have tough decisions going into an Old Firm match.”
Gerrard will have a slightly easier time picking his midfield trio after injuries ruled Ryan Jack and Scott Arfield out of this weekend’s Ibrox head-to-head.
Steven Davis, Glen Kamara and Joe Aribo are likely to be the men tasked with setting the platform for victory, with Bongani Zungu there as an option when legs tire.
But Gerrard insists he has full faith in the South African – who has so far started just three games – to play a part if required.
He said: “I made it quite clear that it was important we got someone in the door before the window shut.
“Getting Bongani up to speed was the priority because over the course of the season, with the schedule we have, we were always going to get a knock or two.
“Ryan Jack being out for the amount of time he has has been a real disappointment for me.
“Scott Arfield’s absence is a bit of bad luck from a challenge he had against Hibs. So it does make us slightly light in that area.
“But having Bongani there is a big help. Joe Aribo getting back up to speed and back to form as quick as he has is a real positive.
“I thought both him and Glen Kamara were superb against St Mirren. Steven Davis, aside from one or two moments early on, again showed why he is so important to us as well.”
Gers avenged their only defeat of the season as they claimed a 2-0 win in Paisley just a fortnight after being dumped out of the Betfred Cup there by Jim Goodwin’s team.
“I judge my players over the course of a season, not just on the one game,” Gerrard said as he defended his team’s strength of character. “Everyone has an off night.
“I took responsibility for that defeat because the team we picked, the way we played – everything was on me.
“But in the main, if you judge my players from the start of the season until now, I think it’s unjustified to question their mentality.
“But we know we have to keep it going and show we can go the duration of the season, not just the first six months of it.”
Allan McGregor kept his 13th clean sheet of the season – and the Light Blues’ 23rd in total – as he recorded his 400th Gers appearance in the game against Saints.
Gerrard added: “Allan has been in great form. The clean sheet record this season has been really strong.
“We have defended really well against St Mirren, we were much better organised than the last time we played them.
“So, good for him keeping a clean sheet on his 400th appearance. Let’s hope he can keep another one on his 401st.”