Glasgow Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has received a huge boost as Leon Balogun featured in Nigeria’s second fixture with Sierra Leone in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers following an injury scare.
Premium Times Nigeria revealed that Balogun limped off the pitch after he sustained an injury whilst away on international duty with Nigeria last week. However, it seems he only suffered a minor knock, as he started the rematch with Sierra Leone in Freetown on Tuesday.
Balogun helped the Super Eagles keep their first clean sheet in their past five games, having played the full 90 minutes, although this wasn’t enough to stop Gernot Rohr’s side from sharing the points with the Leone Stars as they struggled to break down a team who are ranked 88 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings.
The timing couldn’t be any better for Gerrard, as the Ibrox boss may have been overwhelmed by a defensive crisis. He would’ve only had Connor Goldson and Filip Helander available for selection, with Nikola Katic recovering from injury and George Edmundson currently suspended after breaking coronavirus protocols.
Rangers signed Balogun on a one-year-deal with an option for a second in the summer. The Nigeria international originally joined the Ibrox outfit to provide injury cover and competition after Katic was ruled out with a serious knee injury, but has become one of the standout performers in recent months, having started both games against Standard Liege and Lech Poznan in the Europa League, with the Light Blues keeping back-to-back clean sheet.
In fact, it’s worth remembering that the Gers have only conceded once so far this season when he’s been on the pitch.
In seven appearances in the Scottish Premiership, the 32-year-old is averaging 1.1 interceptions and 1.9 clearances per game, via SofaScore. By comparison, even Helander is only managing one interception per league game, whilst he is also dribbled past more times than the Nigerian on average. as per SofaScore.
The Rangers manager recently raved about Balogun, calling him a “fantastic” beast who is “very quick,” as quoted by The Herald. He said: “He is an international player, he is very quick, he has got a fantastic profile, a profile that we like in that area, and he has come in and settled in really quickly and put in some real consistent performances.”
High praise indeed from someone who knows a thing or two about playing with top-class defenders like his former England teammates John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.
With Balogun on his way back to Ibrox after the international break, the fact that he survived largely unscathed will be welcome news for Gerrard, as the Gers face a difficult run of fixtures in the coming weeks, with home games against Aberdeen and Benfica respectively.