EVER since they began post-insolvency life at Glebe Park in their tumultuous summer of 2012, Rangers have found the Petrofac Training Cup to be a largely mortifying experience.
While they managed to beat Brechin City on that almost surreal Sunday afternoon three years ago, simply having to participate in the competition for clubs outwith the top flight of Scottish football was a stark illustration of their fall from grace.
It’s a tournament game and a competitive game and we want to win it. It’s as simple as thatMark Warburton
The tournament has gone on to provide Rangers and their supporters with varying degrees of embarrassment – losing at home to Queen of the South in the quarter-finals that first season, defeated by Raith Rovers in the 2013-14 final and then humbled by Alloa last season as they threw away a 2-0 lead in the semi-finals.
So, while securing promotion will clearly be Mark Warburton’s priority in his first season as Rangers manager, he will not be treating the Petrofac Training Cup lightly.
The fact it has thrown up a trip to face Championship title rivals Hibs at Easter Road in the opening round simply adds further intrigue to the Englishman’s first competitive fixture in charge of the Ibrox club this lunchtime.
“Any tournament we go into, any competition, we want to win it,” said Warburton. “I think every team does. We want to win as much silverware as we possibly can to get the supporters onside and let them enjoy their football. That’s our challenge. I said at the time of the draw that this is a good competitive game for us. We’ve gone from behind closed doors games at Spurs and against Ayr United to a big jump up at home to Burnley on Tuesday.
“This has come early for us. It’s game four in the preparation but we are going strong. Could we do without playing Hibs at this stage? No, not at all. Never in an arrogant or disrespectful way, we are Rangers Football Club and we have to be the best we can be in every game. I wasn’t really bothered who we got in the draw.
“It’s a tournament game and a competitive game and we want to win it. It’s as simple as that. We’ll be more than disappointed if we don’t win the game. The players have now been with us a few days and are bedding in nicely and we look forward to the game and see how we go.”
Warburton was encouraged both by the level of Rangers’ performance against Burnley and the reaction it prompted. “People got a glimpse of what to expect from us on Tuesday and it was just a glimpse,” he added.
“For 30 to 35 minutes I thought we were decent and we finished the game strongly as well. The response from the supporters was tremendous. To get over 20,000 for a friendly is quite staggering.
“It’s always good to talk to the opposition after a game too, to find out what their staff think about it. Burnley manager Sean Dyche and his staff were very impressed with how we played in the first 25 to 30 minutes.
“We gave a sloppy goal away and we have to learn from that. But for the Rangers fans to be so supportive in a game like that and to applaud the team at the end was very welcoming.
“Our message to the players is to send the fans home happy, home and away. We have to set a standard for ourselves and maintain it every week. It’s not good enough to have one good performance then be inconsistent the following week.
“We’ve got to be high in our performance and recognise the levels we have to attain week in, week out.”
One decision Warburton has yet to make is who will be club captain at Rangers under his management following the summer exit of Lee McCulloch.
Lee Wallace, who was vice-captain to McCulloch, was given the armband for the friendly against Burnley but Warburton revealed he is still considering who will be handed the role on a permanent basis for the season ahead. Danny Wilson, who skippered Hearts to the Championship title last season, and veteran striker Kenny Miller are among the other candidates.
“I am looking at the options,” said Warburton. “I’ve been impressed by Lee, really delighted with him. I didn’t know him before I came here but I can’t praise him highly enough for the way he has applied himself, the way he has trained and the example he has set to the younger players. His commitment in meetings is good, he always speaks up and gives his opinion.
“Sometimes you can burden players with the captaincy. It is a big responsibility and sometimes players want to focus on their own game.
“To perform week in, week out with that blue shirt on and to play at Ibrox is a big challenge in itself and sometimes adding the captaincy to that is a bridge too far too soon for some players. In Lee’s case, he has been magnificent. He has relished the responsibility and we will see how it goes from here.
“It’s just about dialogue in terms of deciding who will be captain. You need to talk to the players from day one.
“That old adage about the door always being open is used too often, but the fact is that my door is always open. If they want to come and chat, they can.
“I’ve had a chat with Lee, Kenny Miller and some other players today about Tuesday night, about training and about new ideas.
“When we are doing set pieces, what has worked for those guys in the past also comes into it. They have played international football and the more feedback you can get from them, the better it is.”