Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat away to Hearts marks a watershed moment for Mark Warburton. For the first time since moving north there’s a large contingent of supporters calling for his head. After 18 months in charge is it time for a change in the manager’s office or does Warburton have one more trick in his magic hat?
When Warburton and David Weir were unveiled as Rangers’ new management team in June 2015 there was an undeniable sense of optimism amongst the Rangers support. After four years of Ally McCoist’s ‘brand’ of football (with the brief distraction of Kenny McDowall and Stuart McCall’s cameos in the Manager’s office) there was a belief that Rangers had finally appointed a manager who would get the club back on the right track and bring a scintillating style of football to Govan.
A massive overhaul of the playing squad followed and Warburton would win his first title as a manager at a canter. Nearest rivals Hibs finished 11 points back (with third-placed Falkirk even further behind) but even then there were signs that Warburton’s philosophy and style wasn’t without it’s flaws. Despite the gap at the top of the table Rangers would fail to pick up a single point in four attempts in four trips to Hibs and Falkirk before choking in the Scottish Cup final; allowing Hibs to lift the trophy for the first time since just before Edward VII’s coronation.
After securing promotion to the Premiership Warburton again embarked on a recruitment drive bringing Matt Gilks, Lee Hodson, Clint Hill, Phil Senderos, Josh Windass, Joe Dodoo, Joe Garner, Matt Crooks, Niko Kranjcar, Jordan Rossiter and Joey Barton into the club. Gone was the previously-stated signing policy of bringing young, hungry footballers in and in it’s place was a mish-mash of young prospects and veteran journeymen, some costing far beyond what they should in wages or transfer fees.
Financially, it’s clear Rangers are a long way behind Celtic right now. Across the city they have the ‘luxury’ of a wage bill three-times the size of Rangers’, Champions League money and a decent track record of identifying cheap talent and selling them on at obscenely-inflated prices. There are still some who doubt Dave King’s level of investment when compared with his promises before sweeping to power but Hearts? Aberdeen? Rangers spending power massively outstrips them and as much as Warburton points out the disparity between his resources and those available to Brendan Rodgers a similar comparison with Hearts and Aberdeen doesn’t reflect well on Rangers’ ‘value-for-money’ in the player market or the club’s recruitment.
On the pitch, everything was OK at Ibrox. Up until the New Years Eve defeat to Celtic Warburton hadn’t lost a home game since September 2015 but, just like last season, Rangers’ away form against their nearest rivals has been appalling. Defeats away to Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts (twice) simply aren’t good enough for Rangers and fans are getting fed up hearing the same sound-bites with no visible signs of progress on the pitch. Even taking Celtic out of the picture altogether, Rangers have fallen well short of what is expected by supporters this season.
Defensively, Rangers go from the sublime to the ridiculous on a weekly basis. The second best home record in the league for conceding goals is countered by one of the worst away records in the league for conceding goals. Especially when, home and away, we seem to concede the same goal almost every time. For all the talk of ‘learning from mistakes’, ‘pitch geography’ and ‘working well during the week’ there seems to be very little of it actually going on behind the scenes.
There are some positives though. The Academy has some really talented players who should hopefully start to make the breakthrough in the coming months. Liam Burt, Zak Rudden and a number of others could have massive futures in the game and could even see themselves featuring in the first-team squad before the end of the season. Jordan Rossiter, when he finally returns from injury, looks to be a very talented player and might finally sort out Rangers’ weakness in the defensive midfield position. Josh Windass is another who looks like he could be a really important player and if he can remain injury free and get a run of games under his belt he might show the kind of form that had Premier League teams interested in him.
Despite all the hype of #GoingFor55 it was always going to be a difficult task to win the title this season but to be 25 points behind Celtic and very much in a battle with Aberdeen over second pressure is building on Warburton to turn things around and start to put some distance between his side and Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen. The signings of Emerson Hyndman and Jon Toral will provide some much needed quality in midfield but Rangers will need to strengthen again in the summer if they are to have any hope of stopping Celtic winning a seventh consecutive title.
Should it be Warburton and Weir in the dugout? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.