Has Rangers winger Brandon Barker done enough to start Old Firm showdown against Celtic?
When Steven Gerrard signed Brandon Barker last year, he hailed the former Manchester City winger as a player who “can open the door in different ways”.
On his 24th birthday on Sunday, Barker provided an illustration of that ability when he gathered a superb through ball from Ianis Hagi then cut inside beyond the challenges of Ross County defenders Callum Wilson and Josh Reid to drill home a low shot which sealed the 2-0 victory at Ibrox to leave Rangers a point clear of Celtic at the top of the Premiership table going into the international break.
The problem for Barker is that those moments have been all too fleeting in a Rangers jersey so far. Injuries have disrupted his time at the club but he has also struggled for consistency of performance during his spells in Gerrard’s side.
The Rangers manager remains a firm admirer of Barker, however, and the player’s contribution from the substitute’s bench against Ross County will have done no harm to his prospects of being handed a more regular role in the weeks and months ahead.
In the short term, Barker is hopeful he has done enough to merit a place in Gerrard’s starting line-up for the first Old Firm match of the season at Celtic Park when the title race resumes on 17 October.
"I hope I have staked a claim,” said Barker. “We have a week off now and then a week of training with the boys. The gaffer will pick the team then so I need to be on it every day and hopefully I get the nod.”
Depending on the fitness of those Rangers players who will be away on international duty, Barker is likely to have to settle again for a place among the subs at Parkhead. Romanian international Hagi and Northern Ireland winger Jordan Jones are both ahead of him in the pecking order for the role on the right of Gerrard’s attacking trio in a 4-3-3 system.
But Barker recognises that the onus is now firmly on him to justify Gerrard’s faith in his qualities.
"It’s always good when the manager believes in you,” he added. “It gives you confidence to go and express yourself on the pitch. It’s definitely time for me to make my mark here. It’s now or never, really.”
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