Europa League qualifiers
Gerrard, Lennon look to keep Euro dreams alive
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has warned his players against complacency in Slovenia (pic: SNS Group)
Rangers and Hibs go into Europa League battle hoping to strike a blow for Scottish football.
Celtic’s premature exit from the Champions League grabbed the headlines in the aftermath of Athens. However, both Steven Gerrard and Neil Lennon are confident their teams have what it takes to keep their own Euro dreams alive.
The Ibrox outfit take on Maribor with a 3-1 advantage from the third qualifying round first leg in Glasgow, with Gerrard in no mood to try to defend that lead in Slovenia.
“We have to try and park the advantage we have from the first leg and approach this game in isolation. We are coming here in good form and good confidence – we realise we are playing a very difficult opponent who carry a real threat.
“But, we are confident we have enough and we are going to put in a good performance to get us through. We are playing against talented players and a good team – a good team that are capable of hurting you if you don’t approach it right.
“For me, it is not over until the whistle goes – but, of course, it certainly helps our cause if we were to get a goal.
“At some point, Maribor are going to have to take a certain risk and I will pick a team with enough attacking talent in the team to hopefully go and hurt Maribor.
“This is not a case of us coming here to hang on and grind through the 90 minutes to try and get over the line – this is an opportunity for us to go and show a team that is moving forward, a team that is growing and a team that has confidence.”
The absence of the suspended Jon Flanagan and the ineligible Borna Barisic is offset by the return to fitness of midfielders Scott Arfield, Ryan Jack and Lassana Coulibaly, the latter netting the all-important third goal last week.
“It is very difficult to predict what Maribor are going to do and how they are going to approach it,” added the Rangers boss.
“In terms of us, we are looking for the balance where we don’t give much away, we defend, we are organised and we have a good shape about us. I will be picking people in the team who are capable of going to the other side and creating for us.”
Hibs will be boosted by the return of fit-again goalkeeper Adam Bogdan when they take on Molde (pic: SNS Group)
Lennon eyes ‘huge’ game for the club
Neil Lennon, meanwhile, is also targeting a positive approach against Norwegians Molde after a goal-less first leg at Easter Road.
Hibs came through a tough tie in Greece last time out when a 1-1 draw against Asteras was enough to see them through to the third qualifying round.
With an artificial surface awaiting them at the Aker Stadion, Lennon knows his players will once again have to step up to the mark if they are to have a chance of making it into the group stage play-offs.
“We have tidied up defensively over the past two or three weeks and we always seem to create chances. That’s going to be at the forefront of my mind,” he said.
“I think it’s 50/50. The home advantage gives Molde a slight edge but if we score then they’ve got to get two. We’re capable of scoring.
“It’s a different environment, the pitch is an artificial pitch and it’s not ideal but we’ve played on them many times before. It looks a wide pitch, which might suit us as we like to play quite expansively.
“It’s a big game for us, a huge game. They’ve got more European experience but I didn’t think there was much between the teams.
“We’re one game away from the play-offs. In terms of the profile of the club and where we want to take the team, then yeah, the magnitude of the game is big.”
Goalkeeper Adam Bogdan is set to return between the posts after missing the 0-0 draw in Edinburgh with a hip injury.