Mark Warburton reckons Rangers’ friendly with Linfield will help prevent his side from being caught cold in the heat of Old Firm battle.
Rangers will travel across the Irish Sea to take on the Belfast side on Saturday for Linfield midfielder Jamie Mulgrew’s testimonial.
The clash will give Englishman Warburton his final chance to fine-tune Rangers ahead of next month’s league game at Celtic Park and Warburton believes the match will be vital as he looks to ensure they do not seize up against their title rivals following a 15-day break between Ladbrokes Premiership fixtures.
After completing their league schedule last term, Rangers found themselves sitting idle for three weeks ahead of the William Hill Scottish Cup and the long lay-off proved costly as a Hibs side forced to scrap on through the play-offs snatched the trophy with a 3-2 triumph.
The Ibrox manager is keen to avoid a repeat ahead of the first derby clash of the campaign.
He told RangersTV: “It’s important for us. We are conscious that we played Kilmarnock on Friday night and the next game is the Old Firm on 10 September. That is too long a gap. We learned that from the cup final.
“So the Linfield game is good for us, the relationship between the clubs is very evident, so I’m looking forward to that. We’ll come back in on Thursday, the boys will have had three or four days off, which is important to utilise, then we’ll come back and train well on the Thursday and Friday, travel Friday afternoon and look forward to the encounter and hopefully a warm reception.
“Then we get back here, Sunday off and then a full week into the next game.”
Warburton has promised to take David Healy’s side seriously as he looks to sharpen his own players’ focus on the task ahead.
He continued: “For us very much so, we need to keep the squad ticking over. Training is good but nothing replicates a game. So it’s important that we use the game very wisely, we respect the opposition of course as always, but make sure we maximise the game.”
Warburton is looking forward to his first trip to Northern Ireland as Ibrox manager, saying: “It’s a first time for me in a Rangers capacity. I’ve heard so many stories.
“I understand the help Linfield gave to Rangers in the past, so it’s good for us to go back and reciprocate.
“I’m looking forward to experiencing it, a warm reception, and having a really good, high-quality encounter.”
Meanwhile, Joleon Lescott, who turned down a move to Rangers, has left Aston Villa and joined AEK Athens on a two-year deal, the Greek Superleague club have announced. The 34-year-old former England international joined Villa last summer, making 30 Premier League appearances last season as the Midlands club were relegated to the Championship.
Lescott, a two-time Premier League winner with Manchester City, had not featured this campaign at Villa Park under new manager Roberto Di Matteo.
AEK’s domestic league starts on 10 September with a home game against Xanthi, though the club have already been knocked out of the Europa League by French side St Etienne.