MARK Warburton has admitted he knows next to nothing about the teams who stand between him and his task of winning the Scottish Championship this season.
But, as the Rangers manager prepares for his opening league fixture against St Mirren at Ibrox tomorrow night, he insists he is content to pay little heed to the opposition.
It’s been about finding a pattern of play, how we want to play the gameMark Warburton
Warburton has already been acclaimed for the attention to detail he has brought to training and preparation at the Ibrox club with early signs of encouragement on the pitch for their supporters in the cup-tie victories over Hibs and Peterhead.
But it seems that analysis of opponents is not a major priority for the former Brentford boss.
“If I’m being honest, 95 per cent of my focus is on what my team does,” said Warburton. “It’s about Rangers. It’s about us in the league, it’s about us preparing well. If teams play 4-5-1, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 against us, that’s fine. It’s about us trying to do what we do well and dominate the football.
“If we can dominate the football, then we will be okay. You saw against Peterhead, we kept the ball really well and worked the opposition. We created chances late in the game, which we did against Hibs as well.
“I don’t know a great deal about St Mirren. I’ve watched games on DVD and had feedback from scouting reports, but I wouldn’t know as much about the individual players as I would have done at Brentford. That’s natural, because I have come from a different league where I knew all about my opposition.
“Before I came to Rangers, I was unsure as to the quality and the depth of the quality of Scottish football. Down south you hear the obvious names being mentioned and you saw the Champions League and Europa League, but I didn’t know enough about the depth of the quality up here. I think there is an evident difference in quality, but there are a number of factors that negate that disparity, in terms of plastic pitches and the likes of inclement weather.
“So you can go into a game where you are perceived to be a strong favourite and you can come into all sorts of problems if you are not prepared for it.”
On that front, Warburton could not be more satisfied at the degree of readiness among the squad of players he has been moulding for the past few weeks.
“It’s been about getting our fitness levels right and hopefully coming through unscathed in terms of injuries,” he added.
“It’s been about finding a pattern of play, how we want to play the game. Touch wood, it’s gone well. I’ve been pleased with it.
“From the first training session, the players have been outstanding. I’m not saying that lightly. They have applied themselves on and off the pitch – with the gym work, all the additional work we do every day with them. They have been first class and hopefully that will show on the pitch.
“Our job here is to create the best environment, one which is conducive to them carrying on learning. A lot of them are young players and they need to keep on being challenged. They get the best medical care, sports science and nutrition. It will always be one game at a time for me and we are trying to be the best we can be for Friday night and get that done, then be the best we can be for the next game.
“We have to maintain standards in training every single day. The intensity doesn’t change. We might reduce the length of the work period – instead of a four-minute session, you have a two minute session with recovery three minutes instead of one minute. But you don’t change the intensity of the session while you’re working. That’s the message we have been getting across and the players have been outstanding. There have been dips in training but we’ve dealt with it.”
One unexpected beneficiary of the Warburton regime has been 20-year-old winger Barrie McKay, inset, whose days at the club appeared to be numbered when he fell out of favour under Ally McCoist and was loaned out to Morton and Raith Rovers. McKay has started both competitive fixtures under Warburton so far.
“Barrie went out on loan and played first-team football,” said Warburton. “I look back to Brentford when we had Alex Pritchard on loan from Tottenham. He’d played on loan at Swindon in League One, then played for us in the Championship. Now he is ready for the Premier League.
“We got Stuart Dallas for £5000, loaned him to Northampton, then he came back and did well for us. He’s just gone to Leeds United for seven figures. It is very rare to get the transition straight from academy to being a first-team regular.
“In Barrie I see a player who is clever with the football. He needed a little bit of confidence. He’s had a chat with David Weir and myself, our job is to give him a better environment.
“He trained really well from our first day here. It’s not about age – I don’t care if you are 18 or 38, if you are right for the team. Barrie has done everything to suggest he should be in the starting 11.”
Tomorrow marks the start of Warburton’s quest to restore Rangers to the top flight of Scottish football and while focused on the immediate challenge, he revealed he is already eyeing the day when he leads the club into an Old Firm fixture.
“I was playing nine holes of golf at Mar Hall the other day and there was a crazy Celtic supporter with a green- checked shirt and trousers there,” he smiled. “It was great fun – he had a terrible swing but he was good fun!
“Like all the supporters I’ve met so far, Rangers or Celtic, they’ve been really polite and warm and friendly towards me.
“Of course I want to experience that fixture. That’s why we are here. Our aim has to be to get as high as we can this year. In tandem with the players, it’s very clear what we have to do. So hopefully that occurs sooner rather than later.”