Rangers: Steven Gerrard challenges youngsters to stake first-team claim

Scotland Under-21 cap Nathan Patterson has made four Rangers appearances this season
Scotland Under-21 cap Nathan Patterson has made four Rangers appearances this season

Steven Gerrard has challenged Rangers' youngsters to "go above and beyond" to prove they deserve a first-team chance.

Full-back Nathan Patterson, 19, has signed a two-year contract extension, while Kai Kennedy impressed on his loan debut for Raith Rovers on Saturday.

But the likes of Glenn Middleton, Robby McCrorie and Josh McPake have seen their progress stall amid a lack of academy prospects staking a claim.

"The ball is in their court," said manager Gerrard.

"Nathan's been fantastic, his level of training has been superb, and there's a lot more to come from him. I have no doubts that if he keeps doing what he's doing, he can become a regular for this first team.

"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.

"They have to go above and beyond and be obsessed with getting better and pushing. If they're good enough, work hard and sacrifice enough, they will be given opportunities."

Middleton - who was sent out to St Johnstone on Monday - looks to have slipped further down Gerrard's pecking order after Rangers signed Aberdeen winger Scott Wright on a pre-contract deal.

Gerrard says Aberdeen will ultimately decide if Wright's summer move can be fast-tracked to this month. But with Rangers reportedly close to agreeing pre-contract deals for Bournemouth pair Nnamdi Ofoborh and Jack Simpson, Gerrard is "hoping to add some news" of new arrivals before Monday's transfer deadline.

Rangers, 23 points clear of Celtic, need just nine more Scottish Premiership wins to clinch their first league title in a decade. Next up is a trip to Easter Road where Gerrard has taken just one win in four attempts.

"It's probably one of the toughest away fixtures in the schedule," he said. "Our performances have been really good at Easter Road but maybe we haven't had the results we've deserved."

Meanwhile, Gerrard is hoping Scott Arfield will declare himself fit for next month's Europa League last-32 tie with Royal Antwerp.

The midfielder has been sidelined since injuring ankle ligaments against Hibs on Boxing Day, but is on track for a comeback ahead of the trip to Belgium on February 18.

"Scott is moving along really well," said Gerrard. "I'm hoping to have him available around that time."

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