Rangers boss seeks home comfort to banish away-day blues

Rangers striker Kenny Miller holds his head in his hands during his side's midweek defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle. Picture: SNS

Rangers striker Kenny Miller holds his head in his hands during his side's midweek defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle. Picture: SNS

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As unpalatable as they have been for Rangers supporters, the three league defeats their team has suffered so far on their return to top-flight football would hardly have been regarded as shock results in any previous era.

Certainly, far more accomplished Rangers sides down the years than the one currently operating under Mark Warburton’s guidance found themselves leaving Celtic Park, Pittodrie and Tynecastle with nothing to show for their efforts.

But if there is any degree of mitigation for Warburton in having had to face Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts all away from home in his first round of Premiership fixtures, there will be no such leeway for the Rangers manager when their leading three opponents each visit Ibrox this month.

What is unquestionably a crucial spell for Warburton, who is coming under increasingly intense scrutiny as a consequence of Rangers’ largely unconvincing form so far this season, begins when Aberdeen arrive in Govan for the first time in almost five years this afternoon.

Should Rangers suffer another setback in the race for Europa League qualification against the Dons, who have not won at Ibrox since 1991, the heat would be turned up significantly on the 54-year-old Englishman.

But Warburton is hopeful of enjoying some home comfort as he takes pride in Rangers’ current 30-match unbeaten run at Ibrox, stretching back to their 3-1 League Cup defeat against St Johnstone in September 2015, which remains his only home loss since he replaced Stuart McCall as manager.

As he seeks a positive response to Wednesday night’s 2-0 reversal at Hearts, Warburton knows the onus is now firmly on his players to make home advantage count in the next few weeks.

“We lost three valuable points on Wednesday, regardless of where the game was played,” said Warburton. “But we have a good home record. We’ve only lost once in the 18 months we’ve been here, to St Johnstone in the League Cup.

“That’s not a bad record for 18 months – I think it’s the best since 2001 for Rangers at home. We have to recognise that and keep on extending it. When we have a packed out Ibrox, we have to deliver performances.”

Rangers have managed just one win so far against a team from last season’s top six in the Premiership, when Kenny Miller’s stoppage time goal secured a 2-1 victory over Motherwell at Ibrox in August.

“Everyone mentions that, but at the same time you have to beat the bottom teams as well,” responded Warburton. “It is a very, very tight league. If you beat us, then lose your next two games against teams in the bottom three, it is 
irrelevant.

“The fact we went into Wednesday night’s game in second place suggests that, while we have lost to Celtic and Aberdeen, we have done all right against other teams.

“So it’s about balance over the course of the season. If you beat all the teams in the bottom six three times, it’s 72 points. That’s up for grabs [before the split]. So it works both ways.”

Warburton also dismissed criticism of what many regard as his almost slavish devotion to a 4-3-3 system which many Premiership opponents have been able to effectively counteract. He insists there is no lack of variety in Rangers’ 
tactical approach.

“There’s rotation, there’s movement in how we play,” he said. “There are wide players driving in. People say ‘try 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2’ but they are really just [versions of] 4-3-3. There’s movement and formations within the 4-3-3. That’s what we do – we have a lot of rotation and movement. We go through it every day out on the training pitch but on Wednesday night, hands up, it didn’t work. We weren’t conscientious enough.

“We’ve got to learn from it. Win, lose or draw, how can we learn from the last game. We weren’t good enough at Tynecastle. There no point in saying we could have done this or that – the bottom line is we didn’t. We didn’t get started and we never moved the ball as we can do and we paid the price for it. We conceded two really sloppy goals. Up until the first goal, I thought it was two sides cancelling each other out. But they were really poor goals to give away and we paid the price.”

There was a degree of passivity in Rangers’ defeat at Tynecastle where at times they almost appeared to be bullied by a far more vibrant and dynamic Hearts side.

Asked if his players can be ‘too nice’ during games, Warburton replied: “They can be. And they can also be too angry on the pitch. It’s about being balanced and recognising that it can be a heated game but you need a bit of that ice water in your veins as well.

“Whatever job you do, it’s about getting the balance right. If emotions take over, you are never going to produce your best performance but you need that emotion in the first place, just to get in the right frame of mind. On Wednesday night, for whatever reason, we had a bad day at the office.”

The former Brentford boss also admitted the pressure and demands he currently faces at Rangers is not comparable to his previous jobs, either in football or as a city trader.

“I’d be disrespectful if I said it was the same as where I’ve been before,” he said. “At Brentford, we got angry when the message to us was to survive in the Championship after we got promoted. We told the players we couldn’t have that, because survive means just doing enough.

“But this is a different environment completely. It is a completely different level of scrutiny. You can also put pressure on yourself, whatever walk of life you are in. If you are in the city and your budget is £5 million, you want to make it £7m. Then you want to make it £10m. That’s about being competitive.

“But it is a different level here, undoubtedly. It’s a much bigger club with a fantastic history and we’ve got to respect that. But we are also at a different time in this club’s history. The way we get out of this situation is not the same way as in previous years. We have to recognise that.”

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