Rangers must back Mark Warburton ‘to stop Celtic dominance’

Walter Smith holds the league trophy at Ibrox after leading Rangers to nine-in-a-row in 1997. Picture: SNS
Walter Smith holds the league trophy at Ibrox after leading Rangers to nine-in-a-row in 1997. Picture: SNS
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Walter Smith has insisted that the pressure of stopping Celtic from romping away to ten successive titles will hit Mark Warburton as soon as he leads Rangers in the Premiership.

Smith famously led Rangers to nine-in-a-row in 1997, emulating the feat set by Jock Stein in Celtic’s greatest era between 1966 and 1974.

And the legendary former manager knows that with Celtic on course to win their fifth successive title this season, Rangers will be under intense pressure to break their stranglehold as quickly as possible.

Unless there is huge investment in the squad over the summer, it will be difficult for Warburton to compete right away but Smith knows that will cut no ice with supporters.

With the fierce rivals meeting at Hampden on Sunday, Smith has called on the Rangers board to supply that backing in the same way that he was supported when he was in charge.

He said: “It is a pressure that will come on Rangers, it will come on right away. I hear people saying that they have got time, but I’m afraid time and patience were never virtues that Rangers supporters were blessed with in particular. First and foremost the challenge is there for Rangers, having been out for four years, it’s a bigger challenge to them than for Celtic who’ve been winning championships.

“So not only have you to go in and do well, you’ve to stop Celtic getting that nine-in-a-row, towards ten-in-a-row, dare I say it.

“They’ve had a free run and nobody would have expected that circumstance. They’ve taken advantage of it and it’ll be up to Rangers to react to that.

“They have done in the past and they’ll have to do it once again. That’s the awkward thing for everybody at Rangers – they’ve so much to do to get back and they have to choose whether to sort things around the club. There’s a level
of optimism there that they can do it and get back to somewhere near the level they were at five to ten years ago.

“Hopefully, Mark Warburton gets the same opportunities that Walter Smith had – and he’ll have to because Celtic, in my mind, will show a reaction to Rangers coming back. Like they do in most seasons previously before the troubles, they always invested in players. They have to do that next season.”

Smith is intrigued to see what happens on Sunday, particularly the way Warburton operates tactically but he has no doubt that the Englishman will handle it.

He said: “You take the job because you want to do it. He could have stayed in England and got a decent job down there – but he’s come here to experience this.

“He’s experiencing the game for the first time and he will be looking forward to it. And he’ll want to, if he can, enjoy it.

“Yes, there is going to be a bit of tension, a bit of nerves, but it doesn’t matter how many of these games you’ve been involved in – you will always get that.

“In fact, sometimes it gets worse, the more times you’ve experienced it.

“Mark reached the play-offs with Brentford. If you look at those games and what they are worth to everyone, there is a massive amount of tension in that situation – a year’s work and a pot of gold at the end of it, to go and play for.

“So those are hell of a games to be involved in at the end of a season. He will be experienced in handling pressure. I don’t think anything will be new to him.”

Warburton has insisted he will not change his principles om Sunday and Smith believes Rangers will offer a much stronger challenge to Celtic this year after last year’s very one-sided and flat contest.

He said: “I think that’s the interesting aspect of it. I think Mark will play as he has done – and Celtic will go and try to win the game, as the favoured team. They look as if they’re going to win the league 
again, they’re a Premiership team against a Championship side.

“It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. I think everybody should look forward to it.

“Rangers, on the whole, are a different team and have got a different outlook going into this game than last year.

“Last year, Rangers were going in hoping to avoid an embarrassing defeat, that is what they were practically there for, even before the game started.

“Now, you are saying to yourself, ‘how will they play? How will they do?’ It is really interesting to see how that pans out.”

l Walter Smith was speaking on behalf of online betting company ComeOn who are offering new customer enhanced odds of 7/1 on a Rangers victory and 4/1 on a Celtic victory.