5 to Follow - Livingston

This Sunday will see Rangers head eastwards down the M8 to the modernly Tony Macaroni arena, where we will face off against this seasons surprise package so far in Livingston. 

Of course this follows on the back of Wednesday nights Quarter final 4-0 victory over Ayr United in the league cup, progressing to a semi-final showdown against footballs  bridesmaids in Aberdeen. 

Steven Gerrard made six changes to his sides for Wednesdays clash, the only downside being we will now be without our first two choice strikers with Kyle Lafferty suspended and Alfredo Morelos picking up a booking that leaves him out of the semi clash. It was another overall impressive result with a clean sheet and plenty of positives to take from a game where in truth we never really got out of third gear in all truth.

The match vs Ayr showed us again the value in having a strong and able back up keeper, Wes came in and made a some important saves again, at vital times just as he had done in the previous round, now I'm on record as to not being his biggest fan, or rather that's unfair, I would say he wasn't the problem, but wasn't the long term solution either, something I think has been backed up by Allan McGregor form and ability to command his area. Wes has youth on his side and will continue to improve, as a fan I don't think we share the same fear as last season or indeed previous campaigns when we were forced or gave game time to our back up keeper. Praise must also be given in the way he has handled himself around the current situation, it can't be easy for any player to go from a first choice pick, to back up. 

It was great to see Jordan Rossiter back in action, I do feel we will have to be cautious and patient as he continues his recovery from a series of injuries. Somebody please get the man a smaller pair of shorts he is kicking about looking like a cross between Simon Cowell and Puskas in they numbers. 

On to Sunday and West Lothian. 

Here are my 5 storylines to follow. 

1 - GUESSING GAMES 

Since taking charge Steven Gerrard has been a master at keeping us all guessing as to what not only his line up will be, but in how his team will shape up, many times we have to wait right until kick off to actually tell who is playing where, something I think is done on purpose. 

Imagine being the opposition manager trying to game plan for us and not knowing what formation or who will perform certain roles, it must be a nightmare. Great stuff. 

In his short tenure Stevie G has shown he is not all just about plan A and executing that to perfection drawn up on some fantasy coaching course, no, he has been both practical and innovative, something he will be forced to do again in the semi-final with Aberdeen with no striker available for selection. 

My gut feeling is we will see a back three deployed on Sunday mainly with Europe next Thursday in mind. What was telling on Wednesday night was just how much our defence can look shaky at stages without Conner Goldson at the heart of it, of course Katic and Worrall were playing together for the first time and it takes more than one game to form an understanding I completely get that, it is not a complaint both are young players, playing at a new club and country. My point is merely playing all three at the back could offer us a far greater degree of balance and stability than chopping and changing the two. 

All three players have different strengths. Katic is a ball winning centre half who will command his area, whilst offering a threat at the other end for set plays. Worrall is more your modern type of defender, very assured on the ball, who is comfortable coming deep to receive or push up when required. Goldson is the cream of the crop, the most complete player, he has the pace to recover, a good heading ability and can read the play very well, his body shape and ability to be dominant in his area has been second to none, our biggest issue could very well be holding on to him. In my mind he is the best centre half since Carlos Cuellar at the club, both with lots of similarities in their play. 

2 - HAS HALLIDAY PLAYED HIMSELF INTO A STARTING ROLE?

What a night Wednesday must have been for the boy who grew up just a stones throw from Ibrox, captain for the night on vs Ayr, Andy Halliday did himself and his quest for a regular starting role no harm at all, with two assists and a fine all round performance. The Govan lads upturn in form continues, a player written off by many in our support he has once again proved his worth and value. 

It's quite amazing what a bit of coaching and a spot of confidence can do, Halliday is a player who in the past has played a starting role at Stamford Bridge in a famous F.A cup win when he was at Bradford, grabbing a goal in the momentous day. Once again he is looking more like the player we witnessed in his first few months at Rangers, think his performance at Easter Rd in his debut as the kind of level he is capable of. 

I'm sure Halliday will be especially eager to return and play against the club where he started his professional career before heading south with Middlesbrough. If he is to be given a starting role, it will be one purely placed on merit, not any form of sentiment is needed here, his play, hard work, determination and ability to carry out instructions has earned that right.

Glenn Middleton is one other glaring example of not only the strength in the squad but of a player who continues to impress and develop, nobody would be the least bit shocked to see him in the starting line up. A well taken goal, to go with yet another very mature performance on Wednesday. 

3 - RESPECT THE OPPOSITION 

Despite being a newly promoted side, one who are on their third manager since gaining that very promotion, ex Kilmarnock and Norwich player Gary Holt is now the man in charge, Livingston have proved that they can handle top flight football and are without doubt the surprise turn so far this season. 

Respect must be given, this will not be a the walk over many are suspecting or indeed predicting. No doubt they will aim to frustrate us in the same manner they did with top of the table Hearts just last weekend at Tynecastle, gaining a well respected point in the process, on a ground where other sides have failed to pick up any this season. 

This game could be a fascinating match up as Livi have opted to play a 3-5-2 in recent matches, we must be cautious to the counter attack at all times, they will not come after us something hopefully we can exploit with our creative players. 

Sitting below us currently on goal difference, we face a side still high on confidence riding the crest of the wave from last seasons dramatic playoff victory that seen them to the surprise of many onlookers promoted. A side with one of the lowest budgets, many expected them to drop straight back down and struggle in the higher division, especially following all the upheaval so far this season. I've no doubt a blip or struggle for form will happen, we just must make sure it's us that start it, not falling into the trap of taking the game to lightly, especially with a big match on Thursday night. 

The pitch will be an issue, but not an excuse. My feeling are clear, ban them they have no place in top flight football, we have already lost Jaime Murphy for the season due to this type of surface. This might mean altering our style or indeed influencing the managers' selection. 

4 - DEALING WITH PRESSURE 

We are now in a position not many Rangers sides have been in, ahead of our old firm rivals, how we deal with this type of pressure will go a long way in deciding just where we finish come the seasons end. By the time we head down the M8 i fully to expect Celtic to have put about right past Aberdeen who will roll over and lie down to them, as they so often love to do. 

It is about what we do and how we can execute it, simple as that. Win and keep up the pressure on them, ignore all noise and everything else. Winning is a must during this run of fixtures, building momentum heading into the turn of the year. 

This is a new position for even some younger fans, but don't worry rest assured we have a manager, coaching and playing staff more than capable of handling this.

5 - EJARIA

There can be no doubt this is a player growing in confidence and stature with every game he in which he plays in, Wednesdays show it skill was just another example of what an important player he can become. Never one to shy away or not want the ball, he is always looking for it, a great sign in a player so young, and so little real first team experience under his belt. 

We will get games like the one at Parkhead i fully understand that, it comes with the territory of taking a player so young, form will dip up and down consistency is something that can only come with age and games. Again, patience is the key here. We have a real player on our hands, strong on the ball, able to take players on and already shown he has a keen eye for goal, things can only get better. 

I think he will be one of the keys to the game on Sunday. 

PREDICTION - Livingston 1 Rangers 2

Enjoy the game

Steven Harrigan (@steven_harrigan) 

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