Gerrard praises Joe Aribo’s role in comeback win

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Steven Gerrard says Joe Aribo played a huge role as Rangers bounce back to beat Sporting Braga 3-2 in Thursday night’s Europa League clash.

Braga were 2-0 ahead before Ianis Hagi pulled a goal back for Rangers and then Aribo burst through to net the equaliser

Hagi’s deflected free-kick capped the comeback and gave his side the advantage ahead of next week’s second leg.

Gerrard brought Aribo off the bench to replace Glen Kamara after 54 minutes and said the 23-year-old was instrumental in the turnaround.

“I absolutely loved Joe Aribo,” he said.

“One, because he never sulked when he wasn’t in the starting 11. He was positive in the dressing room.

“And when I asked him to come on and do a job he was super-ready, he was more than ready.

“He epitomised everything that we were about in the second half. He played out of position, he played more than one position, never complained and got on with it.

“He had a massive, outstanding contribution. I’m so proud of him.”

Reflecting on the game as a whole, Gerrard said that it was the type of occasion he and his team were working to deliver at Ibrox regularly.

The Liverpool legend said he will now look to secure a result in Portugal next week that will see Rangers through to the last 16 but was well aware of the quality that Braga showed.

“It was a fantastic game of football. I think both teams played their part.

“We’ve beaten a really good, dangerous team tonight. I though Braga were outstanding at times and really had some success against us.

“The tie is set up really well and it’s only half time. I’ve got huge respect for the opposition because at times they could have hurt us even more.

“It was an excellent game of football.”

The Game

Rangers had already defeated Portuguese opposition at Ibrox this season, their 2-0 victory over Porto helping to secure progress as group runners-up. Braga may not have the same lustre, but they quickly proved they can play as they sought to extending their unbeaten run in Europe to 14 matches.

On a soggy, threadbare surface, Rangers were bogged down and played off the park for much of the first hour by the quick-passing visitors.

Braga clearly hadn’t come to sit back. Deploying a risky high defensive line, they attacked with incisive intent and when the opener arrived just 11 minutes in, it was already overdue.

The warning signs had been there from the outset. Raul Silva was picked out by a Sequeira free-kick only to head straight at Allan McGregor, with Braga having two bites at the rebound but failing to convert.

Mercurial forward Francisco Trincao – who has agreed a £26m move to Barcelona this summer – then flashed a shot inches wide before Fransergio made his side’s dominance count. The Brazilian midfielder strode forward, shrugged off Scott Arfield’s attempted challenge and thudded a swerving 25-yard drive in off the crossbar.

Rangers were careless in possession and inviting pressure. Gradually, though, they recovered from the sticky start and began to fashion a threat.

Morelos – the tournament’s top scorer – looked set to add to his tally as Gerrard’s side found some joy from popping passes into space behind the Braga defence.

Morelos broke clear, but goalkeeper Matheus stayed tall and stuck out a boot to save. The Brazilian repeated the trick soon after from an acute angle when Morelos latched on to a perfectly weighted Hagi through ball.

Braga remained a danger, however, and Paulinho looped a far-post header too high before Trincao curled a shot through Borna Barisic’s legs and just past the post.

There was no real indication of the tide turning as the second half began with Braga again in the ascendancy. Glen Kamara’s misplaced header put Joao Palhinha in on goal, with the striker’s heavy touch getting the hosts off the hook.

A miscued Morelos cross from the right flank then deceived Matheus and almost ended up in the top corner. But another Rangers error nearly doubled their deficit as possession was coughed up cheaply and Fransergio rattled the bar from outside the box.

By now the boos were ringing out at Ibrox and when Morelos couldn’t convert from three yards, with Matheus somehow making a smothering save, it seemed it wouldn’t be Rangers’ night. Especially when Braga doubled their lead with a well-worked move. Ruiz, on loan from Barcelona, marked his debut with the finishing touch as he lashed the ball into the bottom corner.

It almost became 3-0 when a Braga counter-attack sent Palhinha clear again and McGregor came to the rescue with a timely block. The importance of that save soon became apparent as Hagi gave the home side a lifeline when he cut inside from the right flank and powered a left-foot shot in off the post.

Suddenly, Ibrox was jolted back to life. Substitute Aribo then had the place rocking to the rafters with a goal of wonderful skill, dancing past four challenges before calming slotting past Matheus.Image result for joe aribo v braga

Fittingly, the final say belonged to Hagi, who had done more than most to haul his side out of their stupor. The Romanian’s free-kick from 25 yards took a deflection off the wall and dropped just inside the post. Cue bedlam.

Rangers still have work to do, especially without Morelos next week, but their prospects are now looking much healthier.