Glasgow Rangers qualified for the Europa League knockout stages for the second successive season, with a game to spare, as Steven Gerrard’s side stunned Standard Liege in a thrilling 3-2 win at Ibrox on Thursday night.
Standard Liege took an early lead after Maxime Lestienne scored from close range before Connor Goldson met Borna Barisic’s corner with a towering header to tie the game.
The Belgian club struck back shortly before the break, but James Tavernier coolly slotted home his ninth penalty this season so far for the second, and Scott Arfield’s strike in the second half secured the victory.
Much of the focus will be on Arfield’s winning strike, but this doesn’t mean that one unsung hero’s performance should be totally forgotten about, either.
Goldson was momentarily caught off guard after Duje Cop beat him for pace before the Croatian fired a cross into the box for Lestienne to finish in front of Borna Barisic.
Whilst the 27-year-old toiled for large parts of the game, Gerrard will have been secretly pleased to see Leon Balogun shine in Filip Helander’s absence.
Balogun’s consistency has delighted the Ibrox boss, who described him as a “fantastic” example for the rest of the first team after he helped Rangers record a second straight victory in Group D back in October, and he did not disappoint against Standard Liege last night.
Per SofaScore, the 32-year-old was given a high grade of 7.6 for his efforts – he made five clearances, two tackles, one interception, and blocked four shots, which was more than any other Gers player on the pitch, whilst he won nine out of 12 duels overall (75%) and only lost possession of the ball twice.
By comparison, Goldson lost possession of the ball 12 times throughout the game and only blocked one shot, as per SofaScore.
Likewise, GlasgowLive gave the Nigerian international a 7/10 rating, claiming he ‘defended well and made a great tackle to stop Tapsoba getting through late on’, whilst The Daily Record went one better, insisting ‘the centre back was a standout when the pressure was on early in the game’ and adding he was the ‘best defender on the night.’
With Helander still self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19, there’s no doubt that Gerrard will have been buoyed by Balogun’s defensive shift at the back, as his reliability will have gone some way towards softening the blow.
In the process, Rangers kept their unbeaten record intact and will travel to Victoria Park to take on Ross County in the Scottish Premiership at the weekend.
Maybe Calvin Bassey could return in a more central role after impressing against Falkirk in the Betfred Cup, but we’re backing Balogun to keep his place in the starting line-up after another impressive showing.
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