He might have recently scored his sixth goal of an impressive debut season for Rangers but Joe Aribo has stressed there is far more to come from him as he prepares for a potentially pivotal week in his side’s season.
The midfielder hit the Ibrox side’s second goal in the 3-0 win over Hibs on Friday night to keep Rangers in touch with Celtic at the top of the Premiership. He’s now eyeing upcoming games against Kilmarnock on Boxing Day and then rivals Celtic this Sunday.
The player, who signed in the summer on freedom of contract from Charlton Athletic, acknowledged he has let his form slip slightly in recent weeks. It led to manager Steven Gerrard recently stressing that he’s handed Aribo more responsibility in a bid to let him express himself.
“He said that to me,” confirmed Aribo following Friday night’s victory at Easter Road. “Knowing that I have got the backing of my manager is the biggest thing that I need to help me going forward. That chat has helped me to move forward. Now I am reaping the rewards.
“I would say at first if I was told something or given an instruction, I would listen too much to the instruction. Recently, he has just been saying to me ‘play free’, go and do what you want to do. I can break the rules basically. It has definitely taken a bit off my shoulders. I can just go out and express myself on the pitch.”
“I don’t want to talk too highly of myself,” he added. “As the season goes on people can judge me. [But] I would say there is more to come.”
Rangers certainly proved they are no one-man band on Friday. Gerrard, pictured inset, claimed afterwards that everyone was waiting for the Ibrox side to fail without their suspended talisman Alfredo Morelos, their leading scorer. But Jermain Defoe stepped into the breach and scored a terrific third to seal the win.
“It’s not just one player that we have to rely on,” said Aribo. “We know when we have to step up that we can all step up and do what we have to do on the pitch.”
Aribo revealed players can sense the difference when Defoe is playing instead of Morelos. Both have their own mark of quality.
“Alfredo is more of a bullyish type player,” he said. “He will occupy the centre halves more whereas JD is sharper.”
Rangers are within five points of Celtic with a game in hand. But Aribo claimed they cannot afford to look too closely at what their rivals are doing. That will change this Sunday when they come into direct contact. But Rangers first have to ensure they take full points at home against Kilmarnock on Thursday.
“We are not really watching them [Celtic] too much,” he said. “We just know that we have to take it game by game. We have to win every single game. If we’re doing that then we’re doing the right thing. We don’t really have to look at what’s going on over there.
“I have the same pressure going into every game knowing we have to win. Nothing changes. We know we have to win regardless so I wouldn’t say there is any added pressure. People are going to say things and try to get into our heads. We just have to stay focused.”
Aribo, meanwhile, urged referees to do all they can to protect players who are being regularly targeted on the pitch by yobs throwing bottles. It happened at Easter Road again on Friday night when left-back Borna Barisic was lying on the turf receiving treatment.
“That is not what you want to see, but the referees have to help us in that situation,” he said. “We need some looking after on the pitch from the referees because what can we do when glass bottles are thrown at us?”
The incident failed to disrupt Rangers’ stride and they comfortably closed out the win. Aribo stressed they cannot allow such drama to deflect them from their purpose.
“We have to play our game,” he said. “We have to practice things in training every day that we have to do. We can’t just change for the occasion because then you are letting the occasion get the better of you.”