It speaks volumes that one of the biggest collective gulps heard around Ibrox this international break concerned Rangers defender Leon Balogun.

With the Gers already stretched at centre-back, the news that the Nigeria centre-half had gone down for his country against the Central African Republic was certainly not welcomed all the way back in Govan.

Rangers FC v Olympique Lyon: Group A - UEFA Europa League

Rangers defender Leon Balogun is an increasingly important player at Ibrox. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Balogun had earned near-instant retribution by scoring in the match after his mistake contributed to an already infamous loss to the same side days previously, before he was subbed off by Gernot Rohr.

But whilst it spawned plenty of coverage, the news coming out of camp Balogun appears to be that the defender is “expected” to be available for the visit of Hearts.

For Rangers fans nervously chewing their fingernails over the defensive situation at the club, this is a welcome boost.

Filip Helander is out until December after having knee surgery, whilst Jack Simpson remains an unconvincing choice and isn’t registered in European competition.

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Balogun’s potential injury had conjured images of a makeshift defence facing the Jambos, as well as Calvin Bassey being drafted into centre-back for Europa League duty as he was in the 1-0 defeat to Sparta Prague.

But just as you heard those gulps, if you were listening closely enough you might’ve heard the collective swish of sweat being wiped from Rangers fan brows.

 

Leon Balogun an increasingly popular and important player for Rangers

There’s a certain symmetry in the fact that Balogun is essential to Rangers right now given how the player joined the club.

Joining after Niko Katic ruptured his cruciate, Balogun had spent his career being a bit-part player at clubs in Germany and eventually England.

It never quite happened for the defender at Brighton and it was his performances on loan at Wigan Athletic and the recommendation of Paul Cook which cast Rangers glances his way.

With Niko back in Croatia on loan at Hajduk Split, and George Edmundson having left for Cook’s Ipswich Town side, the Gers will be glad they copped eyes on him. And so will Leon.

Having played for eight clubs previously, perhaps three years at Mainz aside, Balogun has struggled to find a club where he properly fits in.

Injury has disrupted the 33-year-old’s career to date but at Ibrox there’s an increased robustness to the German-born Nigerian who has grabbed his Rangers opportunity with both hands.

Rangers v Aberdeen - Scottish Premiership

Leon Balogun was part of the side who achieved 55 with Rangers. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The player’s willingness to fight for the badge has seen him emerge as arguably the club’s most consistent defender this season and Rangers fans are increasingly pleased that Leon has finally found a place to call home in Ibrox.

They’re even happier that the defender is likely to be available against Hearts in a feeling which highlights the defender’s increasing popularity and importance in Glasgow.

For an insight into the feeling amongst Rangers fans about Leon, here’s how they reacted to a legendary interview given after his MOTM performance in the August win v Celtic.

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