Ovie Ejaria and Ryan Kent were handed one of their most valuable experiences in senior football yet in Saturday’s Old Firm derby.
The Liverpool loanees were on the receiving end of a 1-0 defeat after both starting for Rangers in their first meeting of the season with old rivals Celtic.
Brendan Rodgers’ side dominated throughout at Celtic Park and were denied on numerous occasions by the heroics of goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
The hosts made a deserved breakthrough in the second half when Olivier Ntcham strode onto James Forrest’s perfectly-weighted pass to finish of a superb counterattack.
A boisterous contest from the off made for difficult afternoons for both Ejaria and Kent in their bid to express themselves as creative influences on the ball for Steven Gerrard’s side.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) September 2, 2018
Celtic’s midfield worked effectively to deny Ejaria the time and space he needed to serve as a bridge between defence and attack.
The same could be said for every positional battle across the pitch, with Rodgers’ men swatting every Rangers attempt to play out from the back and consequently making it a majorly one-sided affair.
A blend of hesitancy on the ball and limited options ahead of him equated to a tough afternoon for Ejaria, who was forced to turn a focus towards less-favoured defensive responsibilities.
Celtic’s authority often proved too much for the 20-year-old as he struggled to anticipate and track the opposition runs from midfield.
Kent was meanwhile quashed as an attacking outlet and was instead tasked with primarily halting the marauding runs of Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney.
It was a game in which the two Reds were tested more for their tactical discipline and physicality than the creativity that fuelled their bright reputations in Liverpool’s youth setup.
Neither produced a display they will be relishing the chance to analyse, but they can both pocket it as valuable experience of the intensity and aggression they must learn to thrive in.