Steven Gerrard keen for Ryan Kent to build on Braga strike

Steven Gerrard hopes Ryan Kent will get a Braga boost after his winner fired Rangers into the last 16 of the Europa League.

The £7million man has struggled to justify that hefty fee amid Gers’ winter slump.

But the former Liverpool winger has gone some way to repaying that sum after securing the Light Blues a £925,000 windfall with the only goal at the Estadio Municipal.

The Ibrox men should have extended the 3-2 lead they travelled to Portugal with during the first half but wasted three golden chances – with Ianis Hagi becoming the fourth Rangers player this season to miss a penalty.

But Kent sealed Gers’ place in Friday’s draw 16 minutes after the break to send the 5,000 fans who had journeyed from Scotland wild and now Gerrard hopes it will help the Englishman return to his best.

He said: “Ryan is a player that we need that level of contribution from. There have been a lot of opinions on Ryan of late on what type of form he is in.

“But he delivered a big moment for us and he could have had two.

“He was disappointed with the big chance he had in the first half. But I am really happy with him and I don’t just judge him on numbers.

“I judge him on what he is doing for the team – in and out of possession.

“People don’t give him the credit he deserves in terms of the amount of running he does for us – but he came big for the team and scored the important goal.

“Hopefully this will do his confidence the world of good because there will be times when people aren’t happy with him and it’s a little bit up and down.

“That is part of being a footballer at a top club.

“But some of the opinions I have been reading of late on Ryan are ludicrous. He’s a top player.”

Gerrard dropped a major surprise an hour before kick-off when it was announced George Edmundson would partner Connor Goldson at the heart of his defence, with the out-of-form Nikola Katic benched after Sunday’s St Johnstone horror show.

It was a major call, with the young Englishman untested against top-level opposition.

But he stood up to the task as he and Goldson stood firm.

Gerrard added: “The partnership of the two centre backs tonight was faultless. George was thrown in at the deep end but there’s one way to get European experience. At some point a manager has got to trust you to go in, whatever the challenge is.

“He stepped up and he fancied it and he delivered with the help of Connor, who played like a captain, like a leader.

“He is someone who has had some stick since the weekend, along with the rest of us, so to bounce back and post that type of performance was great.

“We played against high-class opposition, a very dangerous opponent, who are in probably the best form they’ve been in for some time.

“The players have been outstanding to a man over both games. I’m really proud of them for getting the job done.”

Rangers have now missed six of their 10 spot-kicks this season but Gerrard never doubted his team could pull through against Ruben Amorim’s side.

“Moments like those can play on your mind,” he said. “But the game panned out like we thought it would.

“We could have scored two more and the tie could have been done at half-time had we been more clinical.

“I still had confidence then that moments would come.

“I won’t be disrespectful to Braga. They have beaten Porto in a cup final, beaten Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Wolves. High-class opposition.

“A team that hadn’t been beaten under their new manager – and we have beaten them twice in a week.”

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