Mark Warburton to fight fixture switch prior to Celtic semi

Mark Warburton said he'd rather play four league games in the final week. Picture: Kirk O'Rourke
Mark Warburton said he'd rather play four league games in the final week. Picture: Kirk O'Rourke
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Mark Warburton will strongly oppose any bid to reschedule one of Rangers’ Championship matches for the midweek before their Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic.

The Ibrox club are facing a potential fixture backlog if, as is anticipated, their home game against Queen of the South on 26 March is postponed because of international call-ups.

Rangers’ away league game at Livingston on 16 April will also have to be moved to a new date as Warburton’s men are now facing Celtic in the hotly anticipated Hampden showdown that weekend.

The first available free midweek for Rangers next month comes between their Petrofac Training Cup final against Peterhead at Hampden on 10 April and their return to the national stadium for the Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final the following weekend.

But Warburton insists he would rather fit two postponed fixtures into the final week of the regular Championship season, which finishes on 30 April to facilitate the play-offs schedule, than disrupt his preparations to take on Ronny Deila’s side.

Of Warburton’s first team squad, Lee Wallace, Jason Holt, Barrie McKay and Liam Burt are all believed to be in contention for places in the Scotland senior, under-21 and under-19 squads which will be named today, while on-loan Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem is likely to be in the USA under-23 squad for their matches against Colombia later this month.

“I would be keen to avoid rescheduling a game for the midweek between the Peterhead and Celtic matches,” said the Rangers manager.

“It’s fair to say that if you come off a final at the national stadium with a big build-up, that’s not the right thing to do. I’d rather play four league games in the final week of the season than put the players through that sort of poor preparation for a big game against Celtic.

“The international squads are announced on Thursday and we are beholden to when that information is released. Hopefully, we will find out what is happening with senior squads, under-21s, USA and overseas squads.

“We haven’t got massive numbers, we have a tight squad for reasons we have explained. But if we lose three, four or five players, then the date of the Queen of the South game will have to change. That’s outwith our control.”

Warburton, meanwhile, admitted top scorer Martyn Waghorn is unlikely to return from injury in time to face Celtic. The 26-year-old striker suffered ankle ligament damage at Kilmarnock last month on the night he scored his 28th goal in 34 appearances for Rangers.

But, while Waghorn is making good progress in his recovery from an injury expected to sideline him for eight weeks, Warburton is more concerned with ensuring he is fully fit again for the start of next season.

“No, we are never going to risk a player,” said Warburton. “We won’t try and get him in the team if he’s not right. Irrespective of his fitness or actual recovery from the injury, if he has been out for eight weeks he is going to need time to regain his match fitness and sharpness.

“Our only concern for Martyn is to make sure he is ready for the start of next season. If we do really well in the latter stages of this season, that might change things.

“At the moment, he is responding really well to his treatment programme. He is absolutely disappointed at the prospect of missing the Celtic game and it would be great to see him on that type of stage. But, fingers crossed, he’ll do well in his recovery and have more of those opportunities next season.”