Mark Warburton isn’t the first manager to deploy a siege mentality ahead of an Old Firm battle and he won’t be the last. As a motivational ploy, it is a well-worn page from the history of the fixture.
Time will tell how effective it can prove for Warburton as he backs his Rangers players to defy both the bookmakers’ odds and the pundits’ criticism of their early season Premiership form when they face champions Celtic at Parkhead tomorrow.
After a vibrant start to Brendan Rodgers’ tenure which has seen them reach the group stage of the Champions League and take maximum points from their opening three league fixtures, Celtic are priced as short as 4-7 to overcome a Rangers side who have dropped four points in their first four Premiership outings.
But Warburton, who understandably prefers to highlight the fact his team remain unbeaten in the campaign so far, believes the 9-2 on offer for a Rangers victory will prove to be overly generous on the part of the odds-makers.
Taking encouragement from last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final success against Celtic, when Rangers’ prospects were similarly disregarded by many observers ahead of that Hampden showdown, Warburton will seek to turn the situation to his advantage in the psychological preparation of his players.
“All I have read is that we are massive underdogs,” said the Englishman. “If you read the media and listen to ex-players and ex-managers, there is no point in us turning up, which is fine.
“As far as we are concerned, we have our own thoughts in our dressing room which will stay private. It is not about bookies’ odds, it is not about comments or opinions about us, it’s about going out and producing a performance.
“We have enough players who are not daunted by this game. They are looking forward to this game, they are relishing this game. If you can’t enjoy playing in front of a good arena, with a 60,000 crowd and a good television audience as well, then don’t play the game of football.
“Our players are not stupid, they’re not fools. They read the papers and listen to radio and they hear the comments. They understand what is being said. What we say inside that dressing room is obviously private, but we know ourselves what we can achieve and we know the quality in the squad. We have made some very positive additions and we are looking forward to this game.
“I don’t think it is disrespectful to us. It is just people looking to the fact that Celtic are unbeaten in the league and have qualified for the Champions League. So the average man in the street is going to turn around and say they are strong favourites on the basis of that.
“You could look at it a lot more closely if you wanted to, but in the bigger picture that has got to be the claim. It doesn’t bother us in the slightest. We go into the game looking forward to it and knowing what we have got to do.
“We have to take care of the football, we have to play our game, we have to be brave in what we do and we have to be disciplined in what we do. If we do that, we will be alright.
“It’s exactly the same scenario as before the semi-final last season. We had analysis with the players yesterday and it was pointed out by many of them that it’s the same scenario.
“People say we’re going to get beaten by three or four. I read ‘four minimum’ from one very wise pundit.
“You feed off that. The pundits are paid to give opinions and that’s what the game’s all about so you respect that. I’ve heard all the comments from ex-players and ex-managers but it’s about us.
“It’s about Rangers. If we go there and we’re brave and we get on the ball and move it quickly and do what we do well, we’ll be fine. If we don’t and we’re sloppy, then we’ll have a tough afternoon.”
Celtic will move four points clear at the top of the embryonic Premiership table, with a game in hand, with a victory tomorrow. But while Warburton is conscious of the emphasis being placed on the outcome by many supporters, even at such an early stage of the campaign, he is determined to stick to his mantra of attaching equal significance to every league game Rangers play.
“I am not understating the significance of the game,” he added. “I understand that fully. But it has to be a normal approach for us this week and it has been.
“It is still only three points. It has got to be that way. You can’t go to the players and say: ‘Prepare well every single game – but, by the way, this game is different’. We have got to try and preach the fact that it is all about consistency.
“There is no point in beating Celtic and then losing the next three games. You can’t tell people: ‘We only got three points out of 12, but, hey, we beat Celtic’. It is about us being consistent. “We have had good spells in our league games up until now, we have had inconsistent spells as well. We have had 11 new players gelling into our squad. But we have got to keep improving our performances every week and hopefully Saturday is the next step along.”