On reflection Mark, how do you account for the performance on Wednesday night?
“We conceded bad goals. We conceded in the third minute and we conceded four minutes into the second half. I didn’t think we started very well. Obviously there was the goal but for half an hour we didn’t play very well, didn’t get the ball moving or the passing going, then we started to do that.
“In the 34th minutes we get the corner and scorer. Emerson had another good attempt pushed over by the keeper so we finished the half strongly. We could have gone in 2-1 up.
“We regrouped and thinking we’re in good shape here. I was confident we had quietened the crowd and then we concede an awful schoolboy goal. We win and lose together but to concede a goal of that nature that early in the second which reignites the crowd, gets their tails up, was very poor. What we have to do is recognised that can’t happen in terms of our concentration and how we response to negative incidents.
“Last Saturday we had a man sent off and for five or six minutes we were lacking in composure; then we were very good.”
The criticism of how you concede goals has been an ongoing thing for a while, so does that suggest you aren’t learning from these mistakes?
“Every team conceded goals. They will say ‘aerially’ or… you concede goals. Every team I know concedes goals. But the fact of the matter is that last night there was a soft free-kick, I didn’t think it was a free-kick but it is two minutes into a game, we switched off and had three defenders and they put it in our goal. We need to clear our lines; we’ve got to clear our lines.
“The second goal shouldn’t happen. We should take care of the football. We are in a great position to break on the left hand side, we had four mean breaking on an overload, and that’s what we wanted. We give away a really soft goal.
“Third goal, again, it’s a soft free-kick. Don’t switch off. Stand on the ball, get into shape. The players and staff know. We just need to be better.”
You do seem to be a team that makes it hard for yourselves an awful lot.
“Don’t forget we are second in the table.”
“No buts. I’m not being rude. We’re second in the table so no buts. Yes, of course we can get better. That’s how a team learns, moves forward, gels and grows. But we are still second in the table. There is an awful lot of negativity.
“Last night was a poor result, unacceptable by Rangers’ standards in terms of display and the result itself. But we are still doing okay in the last eight games. We haven’t been too bad.”
Shouldn’t you be second in the table?
“Why should we?”
Because you have the second biggest budget in the country.
“Is that how it works. In that case, why weren’t Derby promoted from the Championship? Why did Leicester win the Premier League? Answer my question. If it works for that logic, why did Leicester win the Premier League?”
Okay, let’s put it this way. There have been times when you’ve said Celtic have a far bigger budget than us so they should be winning the league.
“Celtic have been in the Champions League for how many last years. Five years? Where have Rangers been in that five-year period? I’m serious. Where did Leicester come in terms of budget, yet they won the Premier League against teams with far more.
“Brentford got into the play-offs and has the third smallest budget in the Championship. Budget doesn’t always guarantee you success. Far from it. I spoke about Celtic in terms of European experience, a squad full of international players. When we played them at Parkhead I’m watching internationals come off the bench.
“Again, they have built the squad in European football and Champions League, and we’ve got to get there. I have never been derogatory about them. I’ve said we’ve got to get there. We have to build and get to that point.
“We haven’t a squad of international players, not at the moment. We haven’t got a squad of international wages, not at the moment. But we have to get to it.
“The disparity, well a lot of players are not on the numbers I hear or mentioned in the media. They are so wide of the mark – I would never divulge it – it’s quite scary. So budget doesn’t always guarantee you.
“Should we be in second? We got promoted. It’s disrespectful to Aberdeen and Hearts who have been in Europe for the last few years, and have squads that are battle-hardened from those type of games when team comes together. We had eleven new players come in. I hear your question but I hope I answered you.”
Do you not feel, though, that you should be further ahead of Aberdeen?
With the squad and budget that you have got. If you accept that Celtic should be so many points ahead because of their budget, should the same not apply to the gap between yourselves and Aberdeen?
“I’m saying budget, Champions League and international experience. Aberdeen have a smaller budget but they have a squad that’s been together longer. They are battle-hardened in Europe.
“We have got to get there. We want to get in to Europe, that’s the target this year. Then we get the squad together to go to the next level. We have to build. We have to catch Celtic. That’s what we have to do, catch Celtic and get ahead of our rivals.”
But after 22 games you are the same distance off Celtic are you are at the bottom of the table.
“And? I’m reading in the paper Celtic are on a record-breaking run.”
They have done…
“So, take away their record run and they win four games less, how many points are they ahead? 13. If we won one of those games, now it is ten. They are on a record run, all credit to them. They are breaking a record going back how many years?”
Even if you were to discount Celtic, do you not feel that Rangers should be further ahead?
“Our job is to finish second, it doesn’t matter by how many points. There’s been no mention of that before.”
Do you not feel there is a difference between finishing second by a point and finishing second by ten points? Do you just see finishing second as the only thing that must be achieved?
“Our target as a squad of players is to get the club back in to Europe after five or six seasons away. You don’t go in to a different level in the Europa League if it’s one point or 10 points. I don’t believe the prize money is any different regardless of points.”
You know how it works though, Mark. The size of the gap, Rangers fans look at that and are daunted by that. That doesn’t put you off at all?
“My focus is on Rangers, and getting us in to Europe this year. If we finish second and get in to Europe the year after being promoted, I’d defy anyone who said that was a bad season. The negativity is up here. I get a lot of people down south...
It is not negativity, it is reality. People who have lived in Scotland all their lives, that is how it is, regardless. At what point does second place become the target?
“I’ll ask a question. When what the previous time Rangers had been down to the bottom division? It’s unprecedented. The club is coming back. Let’s be clear. Senior supporters have come up to me and said, ‘the club’s never been like this before’.
“They’ve always been at the top. They are right. The club’s pedigree is outstanding. The history of the club is magnificent. But we’ve never been to the lowest level before and had to fight our way back.
“It’s unprecedented position. We have to recognise it. We can’t say it’s unprecedented and then compare it to previous events. The club is coming back from a very, very low ebb, a very, very tough time. To come back and get promotion was last year’s target and we achieved it.
“What I’d like you guys to say is, ‘there is a big gap alright, but finishing second and getting in to Europe is not a bad achievement’.
But you didn't start from scratch last summer. You were good enough to beat Celtic so you had reached a level and then had a good summer of spending to enhance the team.
“You're reading too much into the Celtic game, maybe.”
Possibly, but it showed that you could beat them.
“I have to be very careful because I'm very respectful of other managers, but I would imagine that (Celtic) squad of players is in a different place to where they were when they played us that day.
“Please don't say I am criticising anyone because I'm not. But I would say that squad of players is full of international players. Should we have won that day or had that result? I don't know.”
What the supporters would like to know more than anything else is when are you going to get the club back to where it should be, or even close to where it should be?
“We have to build. Where should we be? Challenging Celtic and challenging for the league - that's where we need to be. And right now we have a situation where the financial income they have from the Champions League makes it a vicious circle. There’s £30-odd million coming in.
“How do we close that gap? We have to find a way. But is it easy? Absolutely not. All we can do is be as transparent as possible as a club to you guys and say, 'right now there is £30m more of income coming in over there.'
“We are not in the Champions League next year - they are. So the gap could widen again. But we have to find a way. Time and giving young players a chance to develop is one way.
“But we are just being realistic. I understand history - I get all that - but this is literally an unprecedented situation.”
For the reasons that you have outlined, is scrutiny of you unfair?
“No, I'm not saying that - I am manager of Rangers. You guys are doing your job. The manager of Rangers, I expect, should be under scrutiny. The size of club this is? I can't sit here and say, 'magnificent club, I'm not under scrutiny.”
Do you feel under pressure, though?
“Not at all. We are second in the table. I am very wary of what I say to your guys because I don't want a wrong headline. I understand that last night was unacceptable.
“Do we want to be 25 points behind Celtic? No, but our focus right now is Rangers and getting second in the table. That's what we have to do. Get back into Europe and it's another box ticked. Qualify for the Europa League if we can. Another box ticked.
“We are not going to close that gap quickly. We're not. But if we are more transparent with our fans, telling them what we are thinking and what the club are trying to do.
“We can't buy a £20million striker. I would love to, but the club can't be reckless in our spending. We have to be on solid financial ground. As boring as that may sound it's what the club has to do.”
You make it sound as if it's impossible to close the gap on Celtic? They keep making money.
“We have to find a way, simple as that.”
Would it be unacceptable to finish third this season?
“Unacceptable? We want to finish second.”
Of course you do, but if you were to finish third…
MW: “We wouldn't be happy if that happened and I'll answer that later in the season. But right now we want to finish as high as we possibly can. We respect the challenge of clubs like Hearts and Aberdeen and St Johnstone, absolutely. But our focus is Rangers.”
After a game like that, there are always questions about the players. Are the players mentally strong enough to play for Rangers?
“Absolutely. Last time after losing to Hearts they won four out of four and got second in the table. They are more than strong enough. There is no one more disappointed that the players by what happened last night.”
It rarely happens that a Rangers team gets turned over like that 4-1 at Tynecastle. A lot of people are questioning the mentality of the players. That is unfair then?
“It’s just wrong, simple as that. It’s wrong to do so. They have proved themselves time and time again. All credit to the players, they have responded and done all they have to do.”
Is the away form a concern?
“No. We were beaten last night and lost at Celtic Park and Aberdeen - we should have won in Aberdeen. We won at Inverness, Dundee, Partick, Motherwell. It's three points whether you beat the bottom team or the top team, simple as that.”
If you go back to last season and the Hibs games and Falkirk games, your record away from home against teams round about you in the table isn’t great. That must be a concern?
“But we did win the points by eleven points last year, didn't we? Just checking.”