Liverpool striker Taiwo Awoniyi’s search for a UK work permit relies heavily on a campaign in Europe, and his first goal on loan at KAA Gent has aided his hopes.
The Nigerian joined the Belgian First Division A side in July to kick off his fourth consecutive season away from Merseyside.
Having arrived in 2015 from the Imperial Soccer Academy, Awoniyi has taken in spells with FSV Frankfurt, NEC Nijmegen and, last season, Royal Excel Mouscron.
Settling in Belgium, in a league that plays host to a number of his compatriots, Awoniyi is looking to build on his 10-goal term last time out as he bids to secure a work permit and establish himself at Liverpool.
His chances of doing so will be boosted significantly if he plays regularly for Gent in the Europa League, and therefore a lot rode on the second leg of their third-round qualifier on Thursday night.
With his side taking on Polish outfit Jagiellonia Bialystok, holding a 1-0 lead from the away tie last week, Yves Vanderhaeghe handed Awoniyi his fourth successive start for the club.
It was the 21-year-old’s fifth appearance since joining Gent, featuring in every game for the Buffalos so far, and it provided his first goal for the club.
This came after just 13 minutes, benefiting from great work from ex-Norwich City midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, and helped secure a 4-1 aggregate win.
Gent will now play Bordeaux in their play-off qualifier on August 23 and 30, and both Vanderhaeghe and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping Awoniyi’s goals fire him to European competition.
Awoniyi signed a new long-term contract with Liverpool before departing, and speaking to LiverpoolFC.com after putting pen to paper he said “the plan is to keep on working hard and hopefully get back here one day.”
Along with playing a key role for Gent both on the domestic stage and, if all goes to plan, in Europe, Awoniyi’s exploits in Belgium will hopefully earn him a senior call-up for Nigeria.
“I have played for many years with the youth teams and I look forward to hopefully getting a chance with the senior team,” he explained.
“This season will be the one they judge me on. Hopefully I will do it.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, Ovie Ejaria made his fifth start—and third in a row—for Rangers as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Maribor, sealing a 3-1 aggregate win and a play-off against FC Ufa.
Ryan Kent replaced his fellow Reds loanee on 68 minutes, but was unable to provide the spark to hand Steven Gerrard’s side their fifth win in eight games this season—though they remain unbeaten.