Steven Gerrard is ready to throw Umar Sadiq a Rangers lifeline after revealing the Nigerian has finally bucked up his ideas.
The Ibrox boss gave a scathing assessment of the on-loan Roma striker since his summer arrival when he insisted last month the 21-year-old needed to improve “everything”.
He told Sadiq he would need to “come to the party” if he wanted to stand a chance of replacing suspended frontman Alfredo Morelos and the Colombian’s cup-tied deputy Kyle Lafferty in next week’s Betfred Cup semi-final showdown with Aberdeen.
Those stinging words left many believing that Sadiq – who has registered just 26 minutes of competitive action to date this season – might not have much more of a part to play under the former Liverpool and England skipper this term.
But Gerrard now says the striker has shown he wants to contribute and could even take Lafferty’s place on the bench for Sunday’s clash with Hamilton as the Northern Irishman misses out following his bust-up with the IFA and his national team boss Michael O’Neill.
He said: “Umar has shown that improvement. He’s been working very hard. He’s got his head down. He’s improved a lot.
“His application has improved, his quality has improved so he’s given me something to think about for the future.
“I don’t know (if the warning has sparked the change), that’s something you’d have to ask Umar. But sometimes when a manager is honest with you, sometimes you have to go away and self-reflect. If you’re a proper footballer you go analyse and come back stronger.”
The IFA have triggered Fifa’s five-day rule in response to Lafferty’s decision to withdraw from international duty just hours before O’Neill’s squad were due to meet up ahead of their Nations League clashes with Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
To make matters worse, Gerrard will also be deprived of the services of Scott Arfield and Borna Barisic after they picked up knocks while abroad with Canada and Croatia respectively.
But despite those blows, Gerrard still wants to see his players representing their countries.
“I used to love playing for England and sometimes I’d come back late, I’d come back injured,” he said. “So I’m not going to sit here now and put the world to rights on international football.
“We love our players doing well and we love it when they get attention from their international managers. We all know how proud they are to represent their countries and we’re proud to watch them.
“But from a selfish point of view as a manager, you are watching the TV, making calls and sending texts to try to protect them. You’ve got your fingers crossed (that) they all come back healthy as we’ve got huge games in the near future.”
Gers will hope to finally re-dress their woeful away record on Sunday as they look to pick up a first win on the road since February.
“That’s exactly what it is, another opportunity for us to go and show we are capable,” insisted Gerrard.
“We’ve proved it against Kilmarnock in a cup game. We’ve proved it in Europe. We’re in terrific form at home.
“The lads just need to believe in themselves and get the jobs done and I’ve got every confidence in them ahead of Sunday.”