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Steven Gerrard issues challenge to Rangers youngsters

Motherwell v Rangers – Scottish Premiership – Fir Park
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Steven Gerrard has warned his Ibrox youngsters that they are in charge of fulfilling their Rangers destinies.

The Gers boss has rewarded 19-year-old full-back Nathan Patterson with a two-year contract extension this week.

But while he has high hopes for the Scotland Under-21 right-back, there is not exactly a lengthy list of Auchenhowie academy prospects knocking on the first-team door.

Kai Kennedy, back in Gerrard’s good books after resolving his contract issues, shone on his debut for loan club Raith Rovers against Hearts at the weekend.

Yet the likes of Glenn Middleton, Robby McCrorie and Josh McPake have seen their progress stall recently.

Now Gerrard has made it clear only the youngsters themselves can decide whether they make the grade at Ibrox.

He said: “The ball is in their court. Nathan’s been fantastic, his level of training has been superb, I like his temperament.

“I love his profile and there’s a lot more to come from Nathan. I have no doubts that if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he can become a regular for this first team.

“We have to be patient with that. He’s still very young and he’s competing in an area of the team where our captain has been so consistent.

“But the pleasing thing for me is that James Tavernier has really gone out of his way to take Nathan under his wing to help support him. We need two good players in every position.

“We want to have local academy players who make the grade and push for a first-team place.

“I want that more than anyone else because I have come through an academy system myself.

“But the level of this team has grown and moved forward since we have come in to where we are now, so the challenge has become even tougher for these players.

“So they have got to go above and beyond and be obsessed with getting better and pushing.

“The ball is in their court. If they’re good enough, work hard and sacrifice enough, they will be given opportunities.

“It’s then up to them whether they take them to prove they’re good enough to be in this first team.”

Middleton – who was farmed out to St Johnstone on Monday – looks to have slipped even further down Gerrard’s pecking order after Gers announced the pre-contract capture of Aberdeen winger Scott Wright.

Gerrard admits the Dons will ultimately decide if Wright’s summer move can be fast-tracked to this month but he is hoping to make a transfer announcement ahead of Monday’s deadline.

The Rangers boss – who is reportedly close to agreeing pre-contract deals for Bournemouth pair Nnamdi Ofoborh and Jack Simpson – said: “It would be a bonus if we could get (Wright) done now, but we don’t control that. That’s in Aberdeen’s control and we respect that.

“There’s no other news in terms of ins or outs. We’re hoping to add some news in the coming days with situations we are looking into.”

Gers need just nine more Premiership wins to clinch their first league title in a decade.

The next hurdle to be overcome is Hibernian at Easter Road on Wednesday night and Gerrard is hoping for better luck having tasted victory just once in his four trips to Leith.

“It’s always a tough challenge and probably one of the toughest away fixtures you get in the schedule,” he said.

“I think our performances have been really good at Easter Road but maybe we haven’t had the results we’ve deserved.

“We’ve been frustrated and a little disappointed with the outcomes of those games.”