JAMES Tavernier’s remarkable run of consecutive games for Rangers will finally come to an end this afternoon as a result of the knee injury he suffered in the Europa League win over Royal Antwerp in Belgium on Thursday night.

But his fellow Ibrox defender Connor Goldson will, like some sort of footballing Terminator who absolutely will not stop, just keep on keeping on in his absence.

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Goldson has been on the field for every single minute of every single game that Steven Gerrard’s side has played this season – and there have been no fewer than 41 of them at home and abroad – and it would be entirely understandable if he wanted to take a brief break and recharge his batteries.

Rangers are 15 points clear at the top of the Premiership table and if they suffer a slip-up or two in the absence of their first choice centre half in the coming weeks it won’t damage their chances of lifting their first Scottish title since 2011. 

Will, though, the Englishman be involved from kick-off until the final whistle during the league match against Dundee United in Govan this afternoon? Are the Union Bears enjoying Celtic’s calamitous campaign?

Other players in Gerrard’s team, like Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent and Allan McGregor for example, are perhaps more popular with fans. They certainly command far more media attention. However, the manager is in no doubt about how important an individual he describes as “an absolute mountain” has been for him in the past seven months.

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The former Brighton man has been criticised on occasion during his two-and-half years in this country and he has certainly been prone to a lapse in concentration or a poor decision at crucial moments in the past. But the 28 clean sheets he has helped his side to keep since football restarted back in August underline what a rich vein of form he is in.

“We analyse and look at the players every single day of the week,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things we do look at. They (Goldson and Tavernier) are two people who have been extremely robust up to this point in terms of their bodies. They don’t like not playing.

“They take it out on me if they are left out or they have to come off a pitch, but, to be fair, they can back that up in terms of numbers. They are very consistent training wise and also in being available for the games. 

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“Connor has been an absolute mountain for this team, a warrior. He has had a lot of stick over the years, wrongly in my opinion, but he has continued to improve and strived to improve from a personal point of view. He has been one of our most consistent players.

“We don’t listen to the scrutiny on the outside. We stick together on the inside and we know our objectives and the narrative we need to follow as a group. It’s normal that there is scrutiny and opinions on the outside, but I will protect them from that.” 

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Gerrard continued: “I wasn’t too happy with the back line on Thursday night and they have found that out in the last couple of days. But if you look at the big picture, Connor Goldson has been absolutely immense. 

“I can’t describe to you how well he has done for this team, not just in terms of what you have seen but leadership on the inside and availability every single day. Standards, pushing other people to improve their standards. Connor is a proper leader and I am made up for him.”

Should Rangers progress to the last 16 of the Europa League for the second season running – and after netting four away goals in the first leg there is a very good chance they will – then they face the prospect of a fixture pile-up in the final weeks of the season.

They could have to negotiate games in the Premiership, Europa League and Scottish Cup in rapid succession if coronavirus lockdown restrictions are eased in the coming fortnight and that latter tournament resumes.

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Having a punishing schedule proved costly to Walter Smith’s team when they reached the UEFA Cup final back in 2008 and ultimately led to them finishing second to Celtic in the league on the final day. Could a backlog have a similar detrimental effect this season?

Gerrard confirmed the Ibrox club may talk to the SFA and the SPFL about having a match or matches postponed if they go further on the continent so that no unreasonable demands are placed on their players and they can perform to their very best in Europe.  

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“It would be a case of crossing that bridge if and when we get into that situation,” he said. “We have to wait until March 1 to see what the situation is with the Scottish Cup. If the cup was to go ahead and we are still in Europe we may have to have a conversation with the authorities, but at the moment that is not the case. 

“We are okay with the schedule as it is. If you are going to go far in Europe you have to accept that it will be thick and fast, a lot of games.  We have had enough experience in our short space of time together to handle that schedule. 

“But obviously we need a bit of luck in terms of scans (on Tavernier and Kemar Roofe, who has a calf strain) in the next couple of days so that we are not too thin on the ground in terms of numbers. But, look, it is about facing each day as it comes. I’m really happy with where we are right now. 

“In terms of Europe, we will try and go as far as we can. We will keep trying to impress ourselves. If we get the job done next week I’m sure we will be the hottest name in town for people to want to face.  Let’s just see. I think it’s very exciting. I’m loving this journey, the players are loving it.”

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