Mark Warburton expressed his delight at what he believes was a clear declaration of intent from his players as Rangers opened up what now appears an unassailable 14-point lead at the top of the Championship.
Goals from Harry Forrester and Lee Wallace earned the Ibrox club a 2-0 home win over Raith Rovers while their faltering title rivals Hibs slumped to a third consecutive defeat as they lost 1-0 at Queen of the South.
With just nine games of the league campaign remaining, automatic promotion to the Premiership is firmly in Rangers’ grasp.
While manager Warburton is still retaining a degree of caution, he was hugely gratified by his team’s win last night ahead of their Scottish Cup quarter-final at home to Dundee on Saturday.
“I was really pleased tonight,” said Warburton. “We knew it was an important one, going into a cup weekend and with an international break coming up soon.
“It was important for us to send out a message. By that, I mean it’s about giving nothing away. That’s what we talk about in the changing room. And we mean that both in the game and in general.
“Teams are looking for us to slip up and drop points and show a weakness. We don’t want to give anything away. Tonight, it was 2-0 but we controlled the game and dominated the football so a powerful message goes out. If we can keep doing that then we’ll be in a good place.
“It was a really controlled performance. We weren’t under any threat in the second half, Wes Foderingham didn’t have a save to make. We had plenty of shots on target and the only complaint is that we didn’t get more rewards for the level of performance.”
The Rangers supporters, whose evening was enhanced by the fact Queen of the South’s winner against Hibs was scored by on-loan Ibrox midfielder Andy Murdoch, are already convinced the title is won and chanted to that effect.
“The fans have been through a lot in the last four or five years, so you can understand their desire and hunger to see Rangers back in the top division,” added Warburton.
“But the fact is there are still nine games to go, still a lot of points to play for. From our point of view, it has to be one game at a time. Our focus now is geared towards the cup tie on Saturday and it’s a game we want to win.”
Warburton was especially pleased by the display of Forrester, who produced his best performance so far since joining Rangers in January on a short-term contract.
“Harry was really good tonight,” said Warburton. “The pleasing thing tonight was that the fans could see how good he can be. He is technically gifted, a street player. He plays off the cuff with loads of ability.”
Hibs manager Alan Stubbs remained defiant in the wake of the defeat that has demolished his club’s title prospects. The Easter Road manager, who would only concede it would be “very, very difficult” to gain automatic promotion, described as “baffling” the loss in Dumfries.
Stubbs claimed a “disappointing” week that has brought defeats at home to Morton, at Dumbarton and Palmerston to put Hibs under threat from Falkirk – now just a point behind – even for second place in the Championship could have been altogether different. A brilliant late strike from Murdoch left Hibs empty handed from a stodgy encounter that seemed certain to end goalless.
“We’ve had three games in a week where I could have easily been sitting here saying ‘we’ve had a great week we’ve won three games’,” said Stubbs, whose team now face a Scottish Cup quarter-final at home to Inverness on Sunday, then the League Cup final against Ross County the following weekend. “We just have to keep creating chances and as quick as it’s turned, it can turn back. That’s football. Next week could be a great week.
“How we’ve not taken anything from the game is a little bit baffling. I thought we controlled the game and we’ve had good opportunities. It’s a tough pill to swallow because I actually don’t think they are playing badly, they’re just getting punished and the decisions are on the wrong side for them at the moment. I feel for them because they are putting a lot of effort in.”
Stubbs also confirmed that defender Paul Hanlon will miss the League Cup final with a thigh tear that could keep him out for up to a month.
And, after his side’s 2-0 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, Ross County boss Jim McIntyre revealed that first-choice keeper Scott Fox will be out for eight weeks with a knee ligament injury and will also miss the final.