Leon Balogun of Rangers. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
After a tetchy spell that felt far detached from the imperious form which guided them to a historic title last season, the Gers - somewhat depleted and without manager Steven Gerrard on the sidelines - just about managed to dig their heels in and bounce back in the first Old Firm of the season.
For their part, Celtic can perhaps feel a little aggrieved. On another day, if Odsonne Edouard had been wearing his shooting boots instead of the pair of wooden clogs he’d seemingly turned up in, or if shining light Kyogo Furuhashi’s decision-making had been a tad sharper, they could have come away from Ibrox with something. The fact is though, they didn’t.
With 66% possession and a new boss hellbent on cranking up the pace in his first Glaswegian showdown, this was in many ways the kind of breathless Hoops performance we’ve come to expect under Ange Postecoglou in recent weeks.
But Rangers were far from passengers, and put in a wily, economical display in front of a raucous home crowd that was ultimately rewarded when Filip Helander’s towering header left Joe Hart grasping at thin air.
And if there was one player who was wonderfully emblematic of the grit that saw the Gers over the line, it was Leon Balogun.
With both James Tavernier and Nathan Patterson absent, it fell to the Nigerian international to stifle the electric Furuhashi. Given the latter’s recent form and the former’s tendency to feature at the heart of defence, there must have been underlying fears from some quarters that the duel could turn into something of a bloodbath.
Instead, Balogun marshalled the Japanese star with relative ease. Aside from a couple of snatched glimpses, the 26-year-old forward was kept relatively quiet as the Ibrox man shut him down time and time again.
The defender made 12 interceptions and 16 ball recoveries over the course of the 90 minutes, as well as winning nine out of 11 contested defensive duels.
Just to hammer the point home further, Furuhashi only completed two of his eight attempted dribbles and delivered one accurate cross despite having five attempts.
Naturally, on the front foot Balogun failed to offer as much as Tavernier or Patterson might have. In 90 minutes he didn’t register a single cross or successful dribble.
On the basis of that alone, there’s little to no chance of him keeping his place against the likes of St. Johnstone or Motherwell in the coming weeks.
But in this specific instance, his conservatism proved to be a blessing in disguise. Unfussed by the prospect of bombing forward, he met nearly all of Furuhashi’s advances with the sullen disdain of an unimpressed nightclub bouncer.
Foray after foray was repelled, and the process of nullifying Celtic’s newest star left the Hoops looking decidedly blunter than they have of late.
Of course, other players will likely take the headlines in the inevitable scrum of post-match rhetoric that will unfurl itself in the coming days, but for all of his unspectacular graft and the doubts that surrounded his inclusion, Balogun might just have been the man of the hour.