Ross County boss Malky Mackay is more than ready to meet the challenge of Steven Gerrard as champions Rangers head north for Sunday’s Scottish Premiership showdown.
Mackay’s top level managerial experience shows up impressively against a rival whose stock is rising after leading the Ibrox club to their first title in a decade last season without so much as a defeat.
Mackay, who was Scottish FA performance director until last winter, has a CV which sparkles.
His playing career took him from Celtic to Norwich, West Ham and Watford and his quality as a defender earned him five Scotland caps.
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He then went on to manage Watford, Cardiff and Wigan Athletic, with his time at Cardiff seeing him guide the club into the top-flight and a League Cup final, where they lost on penalties to Liverpool in 2012.
The 49-year-old has worked for UEFA and FIFA and took temporary charge of Scotland for a match against the Dutch at Pittodrie four years ago.
All that stacks up to a Staggies manager who will respect Gerrard, but certainly won’t be rattled by him on Sunday at a sell-out stadium.
When asked about facing Gerrard, Mackay said: “Anyone that wins the Scottish Premiership is a real prospect.
“He has been the Rangers manager for the last three years and they have just won the league in incredible fashion. He’s obviously talented.
“I want to manage against the best teams I can. That’s something I have always enjoyed. I was fortunate enough in England to manage against a lot of terrific managers.
“I have the greatest respect for anyone who does this job and I mean the 42 clubs in this country and those in England.
“It’s not until you stand in those shoes that you actually understand what that person goes through, all it is and the duty of care they have got.”
Both teams looking for responses
Rangers began their league defence with a 3-0 win over Livingston before losing 1-0 to Dundee United, so they will be eager to get back on track.
With no Premier Sports Cup tie last weekend, County worked on several areas of their play following a 3-0 defeat to Hibs nearly two weeks ago.
After Sunday, County face a trip to Aberdeen seven days later then go to a revitalised Celtic on September 11.
Mackay knows it’s a daunting diary, but he’s confident his squad can relish it after showing a good reaction to what was an 11-minute collapse against Hibs.
He added: “Our first five games are against the top five clubs from last season. We know it’s a tough start, but you want to play against the best.
“Some of the players are more experienced than others, but whether it’s players or management, you want to face that test against top clubs, management and players.”
Catching up after Covid
With the football section of County closed for a spell due to Covid this summer, Mackay felt it was useful to have extra time with the group last week.
He said: “Having the weekend off gave us the chance to get a mini pre-season into them and it actually helped make up for the 10 days we had off when the place was closed.
“It was good to get work into them and gave them a couple of days off and get them back in and a week leading into the Rangers game, which will be an important one for us.”