Leon Balogun labelled Rangers' best centre-back by Ibrox hero as semi-final marker laid down by stopper

Rangers defender Leon Balogun was picked ahead of Connor Goldson to start and admits it took him by surprise.Rangers defender Leon Balogun was picked ahead of Connor Goldson to start and admits it took him by surprise.
Rangers defender Leon Balogun was picked ahead of Connor Goldson to start and admits it took him by surprise. | Screenshot
The Ibrox defender expressed his surprise at being favoured over Connor Goldson to start Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie against Hearts

Ally McCoist has branded Rangers defender Leon Balogun the best centre-back at Ibrox - admitting he will have every right to feel aggrieved if he’s left out of the starting XI against St Mirren this weekend.

The Nigerian international put in an impressive performance during Sunday’s 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win over Hearts at Hampden Park after stepping into the team following manager Philippe Clement’s bold decision to drop ever-present Connor Goldson due to fatigue after a quick turnaround of games.

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And the experienced stand-in Gers stopper - making his return following a sickness bug last week - seized his big opportunity to impress and prove he is worthy of a contract extension by putting in a commanding display alongside John Souttar to help the Govan club set up a May 25 showdown with Old Firm rivals Celtic.

Balogun declared he was pleased to put a few “horrible weeks” behind him and McCoist, who was on commentary duty for the semi-final tie, is adamant Balogun deserves to retain his place for the remaining five post-split fixtures.

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Looking ahead to the first of those games, away to St Mirren on Sunday, McCoist said: “The one thing to come of this now is I think Butland will play the next game, Balogun will play his next game and Dessers will also. I don’t think you can leave Balogun out now.”

Fellow pundit Alan Hutton was in agreement, stating: “I was just speaking about it as the game finished. If that’s me and I’ve come into a semi-final and played like that and you come to the next game and you’re not playing, you’re raging. You’re chapping the manager’s door.”

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McCoist then proceeded to fire a warning to Goldson, stating: “I take it a step further. I say Balogun on that performance today is his No.1 centre-back. Goldson might get back in but it’ll be for Souttar.”

It comes after Balogun - in his second spell at Ibrox - expressed his surprise at receiving the nod ahead of defensive mainstay Goldson. Asked if it was a shock to learn he would be starting, the 35-year-old responded: “Yes, because of the quick turnaround of the games. But then from yesterday's session I knew, and it was just about preparing well and having a good start to the game.

At this club, it felt like we had a few horrible weeks and it's been two games only, obviously very important games, but within a week. So I think it was very important to bounce back against a team that has put in good performances in every game we have played this season so far.

“They never make it easy for us and certainly didn't on Sunday. But it felt good to be out there and show some resilience and get a good result, 2-0 and a clean sheet. Overall I can be can be happy. For me, it was just to make sure to prepare well and to have a good start to the game and do what I'm supposed to do and serve the team. I think overall as a team, as a unit, we did really well.”

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