Leon Balogun believes Rangers showed resilience to overcome Hearts 2-0 in their Scottish Gas Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park on Sunday.

Eyebrows were raised when Gers boss Philippe Clement left regular centre-back Connor Goldson on the bench with the 35-year-old Nigeria international Balogun making his first start since a 3-0 win over Livingston at Ibrox on February 3.

After just two wins in eight in all competitions and on the back of a goalless draw against Dundee on Wednesday night, which followed their first ever defeat by Ross County in the cinch Premiership in Dingwall the previous Sunday, the pressure was on the Ibrox side.

However, a Cyriel Dessers double set up an Old Firm final on May 25, the first since 2002.

Balogun, in his second spell at the Ibrox club, said: “I think at this club, it felt like we had a few horrible weeks and it’s been two games only, obviously very important games, but within a week.

“So I think it was very important to bounce back against a team that has put in good performances in every game we have played this season so far.

“They never make it easy for us and certainly didn’t on Sunday.

“But it felt good to be out there and show some resilience and get a good result, 2-0 and a clean sheet. Overall I can be can be happy.

“For me, it was just to make sure to prepare well and to have a good start to the game and do what I’m supposed to do and serve the team.

“I think overall as a team, as a unit, we did really well.”

Balogun revealed Clement has tried to keep the Rangers squad focused on the positives during the recent ropey spell which leaves the Light Blues three points behind cinch Premiership leaders Celtic.

The Light Blues begin their five post-split fixtures next weekend with a trip to St Mirren on Sunday.

He said: “He’s been really good with us because he makes sure that we don’t get too emotional because it’s always very easy to watch those games back and then just feel sorry for yourself, talk yourself down.

“He just reminded us of things that, even though we had bad performances, we still did good.

“He makes sure that he reminds us of what we have to do and repeats that quite heavily as well.

“Then you can see throughout the training sessions how the confidence slowly builds back up.

“I think it’s not a surprise that we had a few difficult spells in the game on Sunday as well.

“But then again, we showed the character that he was able to instil in the team.”

Philippe Clement is unhappy at only being able to make three changes to his Europa League squad following a transfer window which left him “happy”.

The signing of Colombian winger Oscar Cortes on loan from Lens with an option to buy in the summer on deadline day was the third new recruit, following the arrival of Portuguese attacker Fabio Silva on loan from Wolves and Ivorian midfielder Mohamed Diomande on loan from Danish side Nordsjaelland.

Defenders Ridvan Yilmaz and Leon Balogun were left out of the Euro squad at the start of the season by then boss Michael Beale but have become key players under Clement.

Abdallah Sima, Kemar Roofe, Danilo and Kieran Dowell are long-term injured but could be fit for the latter stages of the Europa League if Rangers progress.
Ben Davies is out at the moment while Sam Lammers has joined Utrecht on loan and Jose Cifuentes could also be on his way out, the midfielder linked with a loan move to Brazilian club Cruzeiro.

Ahead of the cinch Premiership game against Livingston at Ibrox on Saturday – Rangers are five points behind leaders Celtic with a game in hand – Clement  revealed he had spoken to his players about the Euro squad for the last-16 ties in March.

The Belgian boss said: “I had discussions with the players about that this afternoon.

“I am not happy with the rule. But the rule is the rule of course for all the team and I also understand the idea behind it.

“I was not totally aligned with how the European list was at the beginning of the season but it was what it was and I can only make three changes now.

“So the reality is a few players I wanted on the list cannot be on the list.

“If you only have three position to change there is not much to think about but if you guys (media) think a bit logically, you will see the logic.”

Some Rangers fans expressed surprise that another striker to give competition to Cyriel Dessers was not brought in but Clement, who took over the Light Blues in October, explained his thinking.

He said: “I will never speak about what we wanted.

“Everyone in the building worked really hard and compared to a lot of other teams we did interesting things with the three guys we brought in.

“I am happy with the squad that is here now.

“About the striking position, everyone is saying that Cyriel has had a big evolution in the last three months, Fabio has already shown good things, he is still adapting, that is normal.

“Kemar is still in the building, I expect him to be fit this this season, we will see if Danilo is back or not at the end of the season, we will not risk him for two or three weeks but he will be in the building next season so we have to take those things into account.

“We also have Zak Lovelace also who has been out injured for three months and he has a bright future.

“So we could have six or seven strikers but you cannot put them all on so you have to take that into account.”

Leon Balogun is happy to have earned the trust of Philippe Clement after taking advantage of a reset under the Rangers boss.

The 35-year-old centre-back returned to Ibrox for a second spell from QPR in the summer but, under former manager Michael Beale, he featured only against Livingston and Morton and was even left out of the Europa League squad.

Clement took over from Beale in October and Balogun was handed a start in the 5-0 cinch Premiership win over Dundee on Tayside at the start of the following month.

The former Mainz, Brighton and Wigan player has played in the six domestic games since and is building a partnership with Connor Goldson as John Souttar and Ben Davies provide competition.

Balogun is pleased that he has been able to capitalise on the clean slate Clement offered the whole squad upon his Ibrox arrival.

He said: “I’m really grateful for that and it means a lot because I’ve had a tough spell being on the sidelines and it seems to be a bit of trust at least.

“I’ve been a professional now for 16 years almost so it (clean slate) doesn’t always go that way.

“You always think that way and I’ve seen it turn out completely different but I’m happy it went that way.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for everyone. Just in his ways.

“I’m sure you (the media) had one or more encounters with him so you get an idea of his persona and I think the boys take it on really well and you can see that in our performances overall.”

Rangers’ 1-0 cinch Premiership win over Hearts at Tynecastle on Wednesday night courtesy of Abdallah Sima’s 12th goal of the season kept the Light Blues eight points behind leaders Celtic having played a game fewer.

Clement has gone 11 games unbeaten since becoming Gers boss but, after disappointing draws against Aberdeen in the league and Aris Limassol in the Europa League respectively, the 2-0 win over St Mirren on Sunday keeps them on the heels of the Hoops.

“I think what you can see is there is a momentum we are creating right now,” said Balogun. “It would be foolish of us to now think, ‘okay things are just going to go our way’.

“But if I look into the dressing room I hear everybody, I hear the players on the pitch talking to each other, there’s no-one taking anything for granted.

“So we have to keep building. The way we came off the last two games (Aberdeen and Aris) where we had a set-back, slap on the neck and then came back into the games, shows you the character we’re building at the moment.”

Philippe Clement is looking for Rangers to get back to their best against St Mirren on Sunday following their Europa League struggle against Aris Limassol.

A 1-1 draw with the Cypriot side at Ibrox on Thursday night means Group C will go to the final round of fixtures, with the Light Blues taking on Real Betis in Spain on December 14 knowing that only a victory can guarantee progress in that tournament, with a Europa Conference League spot secured as an insurance policy.

Rangers turn their attention back to cinch Premiership duty with the visit of third-placed Saints, and Clement’s side will be looking to keep the pressure on leaders Celtic, who are eight points ahead at the top of the table having played a game more.

The Gers boss said: “It was the first time that I felt real disappointment in the dressing room, they were not happy with their performance.

“That is a good thing that they were not happy with their performance, but now we need to stand up on Sunday and show our best level, with what we are going to need to win that game.

“It is about making the mind-switch really fast every time and not to lose confidence for whatever reason, and go full out and get the three points from the first second the game starts.

“St Mirren will make a wall and make transitions and set-pieces like we have a lot of games in the Scottish league. So there will not be a big difference in that way and they are going to fight.

“For them, games against Rangers are maybe the biggest game of the season, so we know that.”

Defenders Leon Balogun and Ridvan Yilmaz are back in contention after missing the Aris Limassol match as they are not in the European squad.

Centre-back Connor Goldson returns from suspension and winger Scott Wright could be back from illness and a muscle problem, but Ryan Jack (unspecified injury) and fellow midfielder Nico Raskin (knee) are still out.

Clement is likely to make changes for the visit of the Buddies.

He said: “We have work to do but we are nine games together and we haven’t lost any.

“I can tell the fans that everyone is working hard to raise the level.

“With all the injuries, it was impossible for all the players to play at their best level. We play every three days and we can’t always have the same XI so we need to rotate players.”

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