Steven Gerrard has challenged Borna Barisic to truly establish himself as a Rangers player more than 12 months into his Ibrox career after his match-winning performance against St Mirren.
The Croatian, pictured, struggled for form at times last season and has played only four of Rangers’ 11 matches in the current campaign. He remains the club’s sole specialist left-back but he was only playing on Sunday because Jon Flanagan, a right-back who has been playing at left-back, was rested ahead of Thursday’s second-leg clash against Legia Warsaw in the Europa League play-off round. Now Gerrard has a decision to make.
Gerrard credited Barisic for sticking to his task and doing what he does regularly in training and scoring with a 25-yard free kick to break the deadlock after 59 minutes. The emotional Croatian was booked for his celebrations after he what he described as his first “official” goal for the club – he scored from a similar position against St Joseph’s of Gibraltar in July but the goal was later awarded to Connor Goldson, who had made sure by putting in the rebound after the goalkeeper clawed the ball back.
“He deserves all the credit he gets as I have seen him do that so many times in training,” said Gerrard. “It is OK doing it there when there is nobody watching. But you have to do it in big moments so fair play to him.
“He will be the first to admit he has played well at times and under-performed at times. He got his opportunity today and he took it with both hands – not just because of his goal but for his all-round game.
“That is what we are going to need because if we get the chance to go Thursday-Sunday [by qualifying for the Europa League group stage] it is difficult to get everybody fit, fresh and recovered. When people come in, they have to perform well and that is what Borna did.”
Barisic was happy to accept a booking after finally having reason to run with arms outstretched towards supporters. Even Gerrard applauded him as he ran back after being shown the yellow card by referee Kevin Clancy for leaving the pitch. “When I scored in Gibraltar, I couldn’t go to the fans because Connor scored,” said Barisic. “This is my first goal officially, so I am very happy. I took the yellow card because of that.”
St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin was upbeat after his side’s performance and stressed that had he been offered three points from the opening three games against Hibs, Aberdeen and Rangers, he’d have taken it. Now comes the real test: picking up wins against Livingston, Ross County and Hamilton, their next three league fixtures.
St Mirren might have had a penalty just before half-time after Filip Helander bundled over Jon Obika. “I was claiming it!”said Goodwin. “I don’t know how much of a penalty it was. From my angle, I felt Helander slipped and Obika was going by him. You hope against the Old Firm you get those 50-50 decisions.”