The international break is usually a bearer of bad news for many football clubs, never mind Glasgow Rangers. But Steven Gerrard may have been left feeling a little bit aggrieved after Nigeria were held to a 4-4 draw by Sierra Leone in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Both Rangers first-team regular starters Joe Aribo and Leon Balogun were named in the starting line-up by manager Gernot Rohr, but Nigeria threw away a four-goal lead as Sierra Leone staged a spectacular comeback at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City.
Everton ace Alex Iwobi bagged a brace as the Super Eagles looked set to continue their perfect start to the AFCON qualifiers as they cruised towards a third win from three games in Group L after scoring four goals inside the first half hour.
Rohr set his side up in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, with Aribo deployed in a holding role as part of a midfield three along with Iwobi and Stoke City loanee Oghenekaro Etebo.
Nigeria enjoyed a whopping 62% of the possession of the ball but they couldn’t make their dominance in possession count when it mattered the most.
Several players were at fault for the poor performance overall but Aribo was the real culprit. At the best of times he looked off the pace, others he was caught slacking as the Leone Stars began their fightback just before half-time.
Goal gave the 24-year-old a low grade of 5/10 for his efforts, insisting ‘his languid style often left Etebo exposed in the defensive phase’, adding he wasn’t ‘as influential in a midfield pairing with the Stoke City loanee’, whilst Premium Times Nigeria were even more scathing in their assessment, claiming he was ‘very culpable as his doodling on the ball led to the second Sierra Leone goal’ and ‘he didn’t take as much care of his forward passes as he normally would and played within himself.’
Perhaps this game was simply a case of too much, too soon for Aribo in such a short space of time after spending a lengthy spell on the sidelines. The 4-cap Nigeria international missed a substantial chunk of the season after he suffered an ankle injury in training, which saw him ruled out for several weeks.
Since then, he has scored three goals in four games in the Scottish Premiership, having made a full recovery, which brings his total to four goals in ten games so far this season. He bagged a brace as the Light Blues battered Hamilton Academical in a 8-0 win at home before the international break.
Even so, Aribo probably deserved a well-earned rest as he has played seven games in a row so far. Instead, he delivered a sub-par performance as a result, as he looked tired towards the end of the game. Is it any wonder, really? Gerrard will be hoping he is rested for the rematch next week, that’s for sure.
AND in other news, Gerrard could unearth the next Ryan Jack in Glasgow Rangers loanee Stephen Kelly…