Rangers manager Steven Gerrard believes Joe Aribo has “the world at his feet” after lavishing praise on the midfielder for his performance in Sunday’s 3-0 Betfred Cup victory over East Fife.
The 23-year-old completed the scoring with a simple finish six minutes from time, his fourth goal in eight games since joining from Charlton during the summer, and shone in the last-16 victory against the part-time side.
The Ibrox outfit have been drawn away to Livingston in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Gerrard made 10 changes, handing a full debut to Filip Helander and maiden appearances to Brandon Barker and Andy King from the bench, for the trip to the Ladbrokes League One side and watched his team take the lead in the 17th minute with a sublime effort from Jermain Defoe.
The unfortunate Ross Dunlop then directed Helander’s header into his own net before Aribo struck.
Gerrard was in no doubt about who was the star of the show.
He said: “Everyone will go away talking about Joe Aribo and rightly so.
“I am not sure how many good players have been at this stadium, but I don’t think you will see many better than Joe.
Tough playing conditions today 🌪, however job done and we advance to the next round. Thanks to the travelling supporters 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/FgpODFElI8— Joe Aribo (@J_Aribo19) August 18, 2019
“He was outstanding from start to finish. He looked superb all day.
“He has four goals in eight games, but it isn’t just about that, it is about your all-round performances.
“Top players turn up anywhere, it doesn’t matter if it is in front of 50,000, or 1500, your standards are always the same and from day one Joe has done that.
“He can go as far as he wants. I hope he stays alongside me for many years, but he’s got the world at his feet.”
On the overall performance of his team, Gerrard, whose side take on Legia Warsaw in Poland on Thursday in the first leg of the Europa League play-off round, added: “I think a lot of people took their opportunity today.
“When you are watching this game on TV, against a team two divisions below you, people think it will be straightforward. But the pitch is a leveller, the conditions are a leveller, but we were professional and we showed a good attitude and our quality shone through so there was a lot of positives.”
Asked about facing Livingston in the next round, he added: “It is another Astroturf pitch and another challenge for us. We were there a couple of times last year and had some good games there.
“They will be up for it. It is a chance to go to Hampden and it will be a good game.”
East Fife manager Darren Young, whose side wasted a good chance through Aaron Dunsmore at 0-0, said: “The disappointment is that we didn’t take our chances.
“We had openings in the first half and even at 1-0.
“If we do better in the final third, we would have made a better game of it.
“But it’s no disgrace losing 3-0 to Rangers and our attitude and work-rate was excellent.”
The turn of events at the Bayview Stadium
Rangers cruised into the quarter-finals of the Betfred Cup with a workmanlike 3-0 triumph over East Fife.
The Ladbrokes Premiership side, who will face Livingston in the next round, did not have it all their own way in the first half against the part-timers but broke the deadlock in the 17th minute with an exquisite goal from Jermain Defoe.
Ross Dunlop inadvertently turned the ball in his own net in the 57th minute to double Rangers’ lead before Joe Aribo completed the scoring six minutes from time.
It was a satisfactory afternoon for visiting manager Steven Gerrard, who made 10 changes for the trip to Methil ahead of Thursday’s Europa League play-off first leg in Poland against Legia Warsaw.
Glen Kamara was the only survivor from the 3-1 victory over Danish side Midtjylland three days earlier.
Despite the scale of the alterations, the Ibrox outfit wasted little time getting into their stride.
There were strong appeals for a penalty inside five minutes when Jordan Jones fell to the ground in the box as he raced clear of Stewart Murdoch but referee Don Robertson was not interested.
Defoe then found space inside the area but his low effort was comfortably saved by Jordan Hart.
After a bright start, however, Rangers went through a period of being careless in possession.
That gave the League One outfit confidence and Darren Young’s side created a great chance after 17 minutes.
Liam Watt dug out a cross from the left that was missed by Rangers defender Andy Halliday as he challenged with striker Anton Dowds.
Aaron Dunsmore picked up the loose ball at the back post but goalkeeper Wes Foderingham spread himself well to make the block.
Rangers heaved a collective sigh of relief and stormed ahead six minutes later.
Defoe’s sublime first touch took him away from Dunlop and Chris Higgins, having had his back to goal outside the box when he received debutant Filip Helander’s pass, and the former England striker coolly placed a low shot past Hart from close range.
Rangers began the second half with designs of creating a two-goal cushion but Hart kept out Aribo’s attempt at the near post after the midfielder connected with Jones’ corner.
Defoe continued to pose problems inside the box but could only find the side-netting after wriggling free.
The second goal did arrive in the 57th minute courtesy of an own goal from East Fife defender Dunlop.
Jones nodded Greg Stewart’s free-kick back across goal and Helander’s glancing header struck Dunlop before landing in the net.
Rangers manager Gerrard freshened up his team on the hour mark by handing Brandon Barker and Andy King their debuts from the bench, the pair replacing Stewart and Greg Docherty.
Aribo grabbed the third and final goal six minutes from time, poking home a lose ball in the box after goalkeeper Hart flapped at Barker’s corner.