Rangers boss Steven Gerrard hailed Ryan Kent’s “world class” wonder strike – but warned the rest of his stars a repeat of their sloppy second-half display against Hamilton could cost them in Rotterdam.
Kent reopened his Light Blues account with two goals in his side’s 3-1 Ladbrokes Premiership win at the Foys Stadium as he started repaying the £7million it cost Gerrard to lure the winger back from Liverpool.
His first – which put Rangers back in front after Accies youngster Lewis Smith had cancelled out Ryan Jack’s early opener – was the pick of the bunch as he dropped a shoulder before unleashing an unstoppable left-footed drive into the top corner.
Kent went on to rubber-stamp the victory with a cool stoppage-time finish but his boss was unhappy with the way his team stepped off the gas after half-time.
However, he had nothing but praise for his match-winner.
“I thought Ryan was terrific today for large parts of the game,” said Gerrard, whose team now match leaders Celtic on 34 points. “His first goal was an absolute world-class strike. In any game, if you score a goal like that on your so-called weak side, you deserve a lot of credit for it.
“The second one was a composed finish which we have been working on a lot with him. That’s what he’s got to keep doing, providing those moments which help his team-mates get maximum points.
“I know everyone will get excited about his two goals today, he will get the headlines and rightly so.
“But we still have to be patient with him because he is still searching for match fitness and sharpness, 100 per cent being at it. They are his own words.
“So once we get him a little bit more tuned in and sharper, you will see more moments and displays like today.
“But that’s the exact reason the fans all wanted him here and why we were desperate to get the deal done – he is such an important player to us.”
But Gerrard was less than impressed with his team’s approach to the second 45 minutes, where Rangers survived three close shaves as Hamilton pushed for an equaliser.
Rangers now turn their attention to Thursday’s Europa League clash with Feyenoord, with a win at De Kuip meaning the Light Blues follow Celtic into the last 32.
But Gerrard says his team will need to sharpen up.
“It’s another positive result and three points away from home against a team who were very competitive and gave their manager everything they had,” he said. “So you have to give Hamilton a lot of respect and credit.
“Our performance was very mixed. At times, we looked like we had a lot of quality and created lots of chances. But, at times, we looked a bit vulnerable as well.
“We haven’t been ruthless or defended well enough. We have to be better in the final third and kill teams off.
“We’ll need to find a better performance than today. Today was good enough because we win the game and the points we’ve got are important.
“But we’re going into a game away to Feyenoord we’ll need to find a better performance.”
Defeat sees Hamilton drop to second bottom but manager Brian Rice insists his men are not going down lightly.
He said: “We are going to be in a dogfight. Let’s not make any mistakes about that. There are going to be five or six teams in a dogfight and we are going to be one of them.
“But I’ll tell you one thing: we are always up for a fight. You saw a team out there today that never gave up.
“They play for one another, for me and for the club. There will be good days and there will be bad days.”
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