Rangers manager Steven Gerrard deserves major praise for the uncharacteristically risky substitutions and tactical alterations which helped his side pull off a dramatic comeback against Braga on Thursday night.

The Gers boss has received a lot of criticism in recent weeks amid poor domestic form, with many questioning his often apparently stubborn and risk-averse approach to both shape and substitutions.

Gerrard was under scrutiny ahead of the first leg against Braga amid a slump in form for Rangers. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Bears have grown frustrated by seeing attacking players left on the bench for too long, only to be given a fruitless few minutes at the end when the damage has already been done.

For example, when Rangers were playing poorly at Kilmarnock earlier in the month, it took the hosts to score an equaliser, before the likes of Greg Stewart and Florian Kamberi were summoned.

There’s often a sense that alterations are only made with reluctance and are reactive rather than proactive.

However, he couldn’t be accused of that on Thursday night.

He made his first substitution in the 54th minute with the score at 1-0, replacing the off-colour Glen Kamara with Joe Aribo, which was promptly followed by Braga taking a two-goal lead.

Yet, Aribo would go on to play a major role in the ensuing comeback.

The introduction of Aribo proved inspired. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

When Hagi gave the home crowd hope by reducing the deficit to 2-1, Gerrard piled further pressure on Braga by introducing Kamberi for the ineffective Ryan Kent.

Then, when Borna Barisic was forced off in the 73rd minute through injury, he turned not to his reasonably experienced left-back deputy, Andy Halliday, but to forward, Greg Stewart.

This prompted a switch to what was effectively a back three for the Gers with Aribo marauding up and down the left flank as a wing-back. Remarkably, not only did he do a stellar job defensively, but he scored a wonderful solo goal from that berth.

In making major changes to personnel and playing structure, Gerrard took uncharacteristically big gambles.

The manager’s gambles paid off. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Theoretically, he was leaving his side exposed at the back against an in-form Braga, who could quite conceivably have killed off the tie and embarrassed the Gers with a spree of late goals.

But Gerrard clearly felt the momentum swinging and wanted to have as many capable attackers on the pitch as possible, in pursuit of not just a draw, but an unlikely victory.

Ultimately, it was his players who carried out the heroics, but they were given freedom by their manager, who deserves major credit for helping to bring Rangers’ Europa League campaign back from the brink.

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