Why Leon King received Rangers nod from Gio van Bronckhorst as Ibrox rising star’s high ceiling revealed

Gio van Bronckhorst insists Leon King showed why he is so highly rated at Rangers after being called upon at St Mirren.

The academy kid was handed just his fifth top-team appearance as he got the nod ahead of Leon Balogun to replace injured Filip Helander in the 4-0 round.

Van Bronckhorst was able to give some of his fringe men some significant game time, with Steven Davis, Scott Wright, James Sands and Amad Diallo also enjoying their first notable run outs in weeks.

“Leon is training really well and is playing really well for the B team,” said Van Bronckhorst as he explained why he turned to the 18-year-old instead of 45-time capped Nigeria international Balogun.

“So today we wanted to give him the chance to be in the team and he brought what we think he can bring.

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“He has so much quality but also a lot of room to improve.

“But that’s because he’s a young player and I’m happy he’s making the progress is now.”

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Van Bronckhorst is keeping his fingers crossed for good news on Rangers’ injury front after hailing a major shot in the arm ahead of Thursday’s do-or-die Braga clash.

Sunday’s morale-boosting stroll at St Mirren was soured by the sight of both John Lundstram and Helander heading down the tunnel early with knocks.

Lundstram tried to play through a tight groin but now is not a time Van Bronckhorst can afford to have his players’ trying to make unnecessary heroes of themselves.

But while the big Scouser was taken off as a precaution midway through the first half, Helander had no say in the matter.

The Swedish centre-back had to be carried off the pitch when he suffered a painful blow to his foot after being trod on by Buddies frontman Eamonn Brophy just before the break.

Now Van Bronckhorst is facing a sweat to see if Lundstram will be available on Thursday as Gers set about over-turning last week’s 1-0 Europa League defeat to Carlos Carvalhal’s team in Portugal.

And Helander – ineligible for Euro competition – is now at risk of joining frontman Alfredo Morelos on the casualty list for Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic.

It’s another headache Gers’ Dutch gaffer could do without but he’ll wait for the full diagnosis before starting to fret.

“Lundstram felt a little bit in his groin so we have to assess it in the next few days and see how he is,” he said. “Hopefully I can make it for Thursday.

“Helander fell a bit awkward so he is having a scan now.

“Hopefully in the next few hours or by tomorrow we’ll know the extent of his injury.”

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Rangers’ Filip Helander is helped off the pitch

Last week was a brutal blow to Rangers’ ambitions this season.

As if having their grip on the league crown being ripped away by Ange Postecoglou’s rampant Premiership leaders wasn’t bad enough, their hopes of reaching the last four in Europe have also been left dangling defeat at Braga’s Estadio Municipal.

The stakes remain just as high this week, though, with the Arsenalists heading to Glasgow for their semi-final shoot-out three days ahead of another rematch with Celtic for a place in the Scottish Cup Final.

Van Bronckhorst will know these two games may yet prove to be decisive for his own reign as it is his team’s hopes of silverware this season.

Lose both and the small grumbles that have been rumbling round these past seven days will explode in cacophonous nature.

But at least for the time being there were some smiles on show amongst the Rangers ranks after a bruising few days was ended by Kemar Roofe’s first treble in blue and a late beauty from Joe Aribo.

Van Bronckhorst told Rangers TV: “We said before the game we needed to win this game and get back to winning ways and we did.

“We won 4-0, no goals against us and I think it gives us confidence for Thursday and the games ahead.

“I think it was very important to start really well and to score a good goal in the first minutes, and also just before half time. It was good to score in those moments.

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“I’m happy to have the win for the squad and that we could rotate some spots because of the score and I think they did well.

“We always have to (keep looking for more). It doesn’t matter who we play against.

“You always have to show the same intensity and mentality. Today we did that.

“It was good for Kemar – I’m very happy for him. He was in the box and we knew before the game that we would get a lot of opportunities to cross the ball and we had to make sure we put them in dangerous areas and make good runs.

“That’s what we did and gave ourselves some goals from those positions.”

“It’s good to see Joe score too. It’s always good to get on the scoresheet especially for a striker but also for Joe, an attacking minded player.

“It gives him a lot of confidence for the games ahead.

“Of course, we’re confident because we won today.

“But we’re also confident that we can get a win at home in Europe like we’ve shown in the past.

“There’s everything to play for. It’s the semi final of a European competition, so it’s something we need to fight for and to work hard on.

“On Thursday we’ll have the support of the crowd. Today they gave us the support we need at this time and Thursday will be the same.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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