Defence key to Rangers improvement, says Mark Warburton

Rangers Manager Mark Warburton (right) joins Kenny Miller as they receive their awards. Picture: SNS

Rangers Manager Mark Warburton (right) joins Kenny Miller as they receive their awards. Picture: SNS

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Rangers manager Mark Warburton believes his side have fixed their vulnerability to counter-attacks without losing their sense of adventure as he expressed confidence ahead of their cup clash with Kilmarnock.

Rangers have won seven consecutive games, starting with their Ladbrokes Championship title duel with Hibernian, and kept three successive clean sheets.

The run followed a spell when Rangers dropped 10 points in six games, after which Warburton went to work on their tactics.

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And Warburton believes they are in a good place ahead of the William Hill Scottish Cup fifth-round clash against a Kilmarnock side under the caretaker charge of former Rangers skipper Lee McCulloch.

“You draw a couple of games and it’s a major crisis, but the fact is we had to learn,” he said. “We were losing our shape at times and looked vulnerable to the counter.

“We had some work to do and the players have been tremendous in that respect.

“We saw games where teams had nine or 10 men behind the ball and it’s very hard to break down. We had to show patience and when we didn’t show patience and lost our shape, we were vulnerable.

“If we push too many men forward and expose ourselves in key areas, then we are going to be in trouble. In a couple of games that was the case, but hopefully we have corrected that.

“We scored four against Hibs and six and five in the weeks after that, so I don’t think we have curbed our attacking instinct but we have become tighter and more focused on what we have to do without the ball.”

Centre-back Dominic Ball has been installed as a holding midfielder as Rangers have ground out 1-0 wins over Falkirk and Raith Rovers in the past week.

“Clean sheets are always pleasing,” Warburton said. “People talk about only winning by one or two but four clean sheets out of five speaks volumes for the defensive mentality, the desire to protect your goal and hopefully maintain the attacking instinct as well.”

Despite the tactical improvement, Warburton refused to accept his side were better prepared to face Premiership opposition than they were when St Johnstone won 3-1 at Ibrox in the League Cup in September.

“We were well equipped that night,” he said. “That night we made a couple of mistakes and got punished for it. Other times that’s not been the case, other times we have put our chances away.

“Sometimes we win by four or five or we sneak a late goal. There is no great gulf in my mind, far from it.”

Warburton was stung by criticism and analysis of the Saints defeat but he refuted suggestions his players might have a point to prove at Ibrox on Saturday.

“It’s not about one particular game, every time you put the jersey on you’ve got to want to impress,” he said.

“With the strength of the squad, you can’t afford to below par. It’s about the squad being the best they can be every single day.

“Every game they have a responsibility to yourself, your team-mates, the supporters and the club. It’s about having the right mentality and environment and being the best you can be.”

Hibernian continue to chase Rangers in the league but Warburton is focused on taking his team on a cup run.

“We want to go as far as we possibly can,” he said. “It’s not a distraction, far from it. Every game we go into we want to win. It will be a tough test and Lee is bringing a team back here, but we’re in good form, we are at Ibrox, we are Rangers, and we go into the game full of confidence.”

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