Joe Aribo ensured his return to Livingston was a lot more memorable than his last visit after he set Rangers on their way to a 2-0 victory that keeps the Ibrox side level-pegging with Celtic at the top of the league.
For a start, it helps that he will be able to remember his contribution. On his last appearance at the Tony Macaroni Arena in a Betfred Cup tie in September he sustained a horrific head wound requiring 20 stitches after a controversial challenge by Ricki Lamie. He groggily left the field after 20 minutes and did not play again for Rangers for nearly a month.
Unsurprisingly, it infuriated him – particularly since Lamie was not even booked. Aribo was urged by manager Steven Gerrard to channel this anger in the right way and stop being Mr Nice on his return to Livingston yesterday. He certainly succeeded in doing that when crashing a shot into the top corner of Matija Sarkic’s net after 33 minutes.
Alfredo Morelos added a second goal seven minutes into the second half as Rangers eased to what proved to be a comfortable victory.
“He wantedhappy that I was able to put in a good performance and the team were able to get a good result.”
Asked how he interpreted Gerrard’s challenge to him, he said: “I would say it is about making your opponent not want to play against you and dread playing against you because you are going to be in their face off the ball.
“It is something that I am learning myself that I have to improve on,” he added. “Some may say that I am a bit nice but I want to be the nastiest player that I can be as well as being good on the ball and being technical.”
The injury has not troubled him other than having to wear a face mask when he first returned to training. “You always have the fear the first time you go to header the ball but I have headed it in training so I was over that quickly,” he said.
He turned the occasion of his return to the scene of the incident into a personal triumph as he scored his first league goal for the Ibrox side.
“I wasn’t thinking too heavily on it but it is always in the back of your mind. I wanted to put a stamp on the game,” he said. “I am thankful I could do that.”
It was his worst-ever injury. Not even a few years playing non-league for Staines Town had prepared him for such a painful introduction to Scottish football. “I thought it was a bit crazy with the blood dripping,” he recalled.
“I was a bit fuming that not much more was given for the incident. But you have got to move on, it has gone, it has happened.”
Meanwhile, Livingston skipper Marvin Bartley believes Rangers are the best team his side have faced this season. Livingston defeated Celtic 2-0 last month but have not won in five outings since.
“I thought they were superb,” he said. “As a player, you obviously don’t want to to be coming off the pitch and be saying that about the opposition.
“I’ve played at this level for a few years now and I’d have to say that’s the best Rangers team and performance I’ve come up against.” me to be a beast and that is what I wanted to go out there and do,” revealed Aribo.