Whether it emanates from the boardroom or the four stands at Ibrox, there is little doubt that the heat is being turned up on Mark Warburton at Rangers.
If a 27-point deficit to champions and runaway Premiership leaders Celtic wasn’t difficult enough to swallow for those of a light blue persuasion, the prospect of failing to claim runners-up spot has intensified the scrutiny placed on their manager.
Should Rangers slip up in their Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Morton at Ibrox on Sunday, there is a growing sense that Warburton’s situation may reach a tipping point. It is a view shared by Sky Sports pundit Davie Provan.
“It is a tricky game and the pressure is certainly building on Mark,” said the former Celtic and Scotland winger.
“I think the Rangers board have got a decision to make. I remember an old Celtic director telling me many years ago that the board don’t sack a manager – the supporters do. If Rangers were to lose on Sunday, their supporters would make their feelings pretty clear. He is now starting to lose the body of the kirk, if you like, and it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Provan believes Warburton may pay a price not just for failing to sufficiently improve his squad for Rangers’ return to the top flight, but is also ironically suffering from the unintended consequences of his best single result in the job when Celtic were beaten in last year’s Scottish Cup semi-final.
“His recruitment in the summer was questionable to say the least,” added Provan. “The Rangers board have to decide whether they are going to give him more money this summer or whether they are going to make the change. The silence from Dave King and the directors would be concerning for the manager.
“I am not saying he can’t turn it round. If he finishes second in the league, I think most supporters would have settled for that, with European involvement again, at the start of the season.
“But the board and the manager don’t seem to be on the same page – the Kenny Miller contract situation is dragging on and it seems that there might be a tension behind the scenes that we are not all privy to. But I don’t think Rangers have made as much progress as they should have done and the manager has to put his hands up in terms of the recruitment.
“He did a great job last season and he’s now unlucky he’s not up against Ronny Deila at Celtic. Maybe the worst thing he did was winning that semi-final as, by many accounts, that’s what upset Dermot Desmond at Celtic to the extent that he went out and brought Brendan Rodgers in as manager.
“Mark is now up against a real pedigree on the other side of town and Dave King will know in his head now whether he wants to go with this manager or bring in someone else. After the semi-final last season, I thought Rangers would be more competitive than this. I didn’t think they would win the league, but I thought they would do much better than they have.
“The expectation rose at Rangers, but it was also a reality check for Celtic and the board, who had let it drift. They were culpable, I think, in sticking by Ronny Deila too long when the signs were there early on. That result at Hampden was the wake-up call to the Celtic board that they had to go and show a bit of ambition and they have done that.
“While the two clubs have not quite gone in polar opposite directions, one has gone up and the other has flatlined. Rangers is the type of club where the manager doesn’t get time and nor should he expect time. Fairly or otherwise, Rangers will always be compared to what Celtic are doing and vice versa, that’s just the nature of the city.
“Mark can’t have it both ways, either. He can’t highlight the gap between his budget and Celtic’s, while not recognising the difference between his and that of Aberdeen and Hearts.
“It comes down to a choice for Dave King. Does he believe in this guy enough to give him more money, assuming there is more money and that in itself is a question. Dave King has to make the call. Does he trust Mark Warburton with whatever money he has next summer or has he already made up his mind that he is going to bring in someone else who he thinks has better judgment, because Rangers’ current situation requires them to spend every penny wisely.
“How far are Rangers behind Celtic now? Many, many millions of pounds, if you were trying to quantify it in monetary terms. You would have to go back to the days when Lou Macari was Celtic manager and Rangers were in the ascendancy. We are getting up to that point.”
l Davie Provan was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.