Joe Aribo believes Rangers are ready to avoid the “sloppy” setbacks which derailed their title hopes this time last year as they kick off the second half of the Premiership campaign this week.
Steven Gerrard’s squad have the opportunity to intensify their challenge to champions Celtic after the winter break when they begin a sequence of five home fixtures in their next seven league outings against St Mirren at Ibrox on Wednesday night.
In a similar position last season, Rangers were unable to build on a pre-break Old Firm victory as they lost at Kilmarnock on their return to action and went on to drop nine points from their first nine post-break league games.
Aribo admits it has taken him time to come to terms with the level of expectancy placed on Rangers players since his move from Charlton Athletic last summer.
But the Nigerian international midfielder revealed Gerrard has hammered home the message of what is required for the rest of the season.
“We had momentum winning the Old Firm game at the end of December and we just need to keep that going now,” said Aribo.
“I would say all the boys are in a good place in their heads. We had a good break, we have a great togetherness in the team and we are all ready to go in this busy period.
“The gaffer tells us all the time – ‘don’t be sloppy’. That’s what it’s about. It cuts out the sloppy side of it. You have got to be ruthless and take all the chances you are given.
“I found it intense at the start of the season and it took time settling in to a new club and the stature of the club and how big it is. But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I’ve been happy I’ve been able to stay in the squad and keep putting in performances.
“The biggest difference here is the expectancy to win. That’s been the biggest thing. At first it took me time to get used to it because I didn’t have that expectancy before. You just know here that if you make a mistake it won’t be seen as just ‘oh well, the next one will be better’ – it has to be right all the time.”
Aribo’s own confidence levels are currently sky high, as evidenced by the stunning piece of skill he produced during Rangers’ 2-1 win at Celtic Park on 29 December, bringing a lofted pass out of defence from Connor Goldson under immediate control with a sublime first touch.
The clip of that moment has been relayed multiple times to the 23-year-old on social media.
“A few of my friends sent the clip to me and I just laughed at it,” he added. “It’s just practice. Even in training, I try to kick the ball as high as possible and bring it down. I used to do it a lot as a kid. It gives me that confidence that if I break the rules, I can play my natural game. It’s sometimes hard when you are in a fixed structure, so you need someone to go and do the things that no one is expecting you to do. That just gives me confidence to say that I need to stand up and do what I have to do to put in the right ball or score goals for the team.”
Rangers made something of a laboured return to competitive action last Friday night with a 2-0 Scottish Cup fourth-round win over League 1 strugglers Stranraer at Ibrox which left manager Gerrard “bored” by his team’s display.
But Aribo is hopeful the 90 minutes served its purpose in helping Rangers get back up to speed in time for more testing assignments ahead.
“We knew we just needed to progress in the cup,” said Aribo. “It was a frustrating night at times. We were a bit rusty and we needed to get that game in so we could move forward. We are just happy to get rid of the cobwebs and we can move on.
“We had momentum after the Old Firm game and it’s important we keep the momentum going now. We don’t want to slip up, we don’t want to look back with regrets. We just want to win every game we play.”