Manager Mark Warburton’s results since taking the Ibrox reins have been impressive. Yet, one defeat - to Premiership rivals St Johnstone in the League Cup - still makes many question the progress he has made at the club. Now striker Kenny Miller believes the Scottish Cup has given them the chance to prove the doubters wrong.
Rangers can point to a blizzard of compelling numbers to illustrate their belief in the progress they have made under manager Mark Warburton this season.
This is a game we’ll be looking to win, so we can keep building on the momentum we’ve generated since beating Hibs 4-2Kenny Miller
In the 27 matches played in all competitions so far, they have racked up 22 victories and suffered only three defeats. In the process, they have scored 84 goals and conceded 21.
But to the irritation of Warburton whenever it is mentioned, there is one result on their ledger which still prompts many observers to consider the jury remains out on just how effective and transformational his work at the club has been.
The 3-1 defeat at Ibrox to St Johnstone in the third round of the League Cup in September not only ended Rangers’ perfect winning start to the campaign. It also raised doubts over how well equipped Warburton’s squad are to compete with Premiership opposition.
The Scottish Cup fifth-round draw has provided them with a fresh opportunity to answer those questions when Kilmarnock are the visitors to Ibrox next month.
Veteran striker Kenny Miller shares his manager’s view that Rangers did not perform as poorly as some would suggest in that League Cup exit. But he says they have learned lessons from the manner in which Saints exposed them at the back.
“That was supposed to be a barometer of where we were as a team,” reflects Miller. “We lost on the night, although whether or not we deserved to depends on how you look at it. But we’ve come on as a team since then, we’ve tightened things up on the defensive side while still posing a threat going forward.
“I don’t even think we had an off night against Saints, if you look at the game. The manager wants us to control the ball and dominate possession and we did that even though we lost.
“Did we create chances? Probably not enough that night, but we’ve changed the defensive aspect of our game since then and that’s helping us deal with that side of things. We could have played better, but we still did a lot of the things the manager wants us to do.”
It should be pointed out that results against Premiership teams are not necessarily a reliable guide of Rangers’ level of ability during their absence from the top flight.
They have recorded domestic cup wins against Motherwell and Inverness Caledonian Thistle during periods when their football under Ally McCoist’s management was heavily criticised. As recently as last season, they comfortably defeated Kilmarnock 3-0 at Ibrox in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.
Miller is simply relishing the prospect of another home tie in a tournament he believes the Championship leaders can realistically hope to go all the way this season. A Hampden triumph on 21 May would also earn them passage into the Europa League.
“This is a game we’ll be looking to win, so we can keep building on this momentum we’ve generated since beating Hibs 4-2 in the league,” said the 36-year-old.
“Hopefully, we can keep it going into the cup tie. We beat Kilmarnock last year but that was a different Rangers team. Listen, it’s at home and it’s a match we want to win and one we’re all looking forward to, especially if we keep winning up until then. It’s as important as any other competition that we’re in. We want to win it and, to do that, we’ll need to beat Kilmarnock and then maybe Dundee United or Celtic if that’s what it takes.
“The manager wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s set his standards. We want to win the Petrofac Cup, we want to take care of the league and, on May 21, we want to be walking back out at Hampden with the opportunity to win the Scottish Cup as well.
“But to get there we need to take care of the next round first. When you play for this club you want to win every tournament you enter and we have the opportunity to win a kind of treble. You want to be successful and the cup has the added ingredient of providing a European place. That would be a really swift return to that for us.
“This is a new team under new management and we always thought that it would probably take us until next year before we could achieve that but winning the Scottish Cup would take us a step closer to where we want to be even quicker.”
Kilmarnock’s visit will see a return to Ibrox for three of the players cleared out by Rangers last summer and Miller expects Lee McCulloch, Kris Boyd and Steven Smith to be well received.
“It’ll be great to see the boys come back,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll be buzzing with the draw too and it’ll be great to pit our wits against them. Lee is on the other side of the fence now, as assistant manager for Killie, so I’m sure he’ll have a few sleepless nights going into this game. There will be some banter in the build-up but they’ll be looking forward to coming back and I hope that they get a warm welcome from our fans.”
That major upheaval of the Rangers squad under Mark Warburton has borne fruit, most notably in the shape of 25-goal striker Martyn Waghorn.
“He’s been great for us,” observed Miller.
“When you come to a big club it can always take you a little time to settle in but he hit the ground running straight away.
“That’s credit not just to him but to the rest of the players as well because there are eight or nine new starters in our side, so the manager and his staff deserve credit for that.
“Between them they’ve managed to get us all playing together so quickly and that’s allowed Martyn to score goals and lads like Andy Halliday to slot into the team as though he’s been there for years.
“Jason Holt is another who’s been outstanding but you could say the same about all the new signings. Strikers always get more credit than anyone else and it’s a fantastic achievement for Martyn to get 25 goals so soon.
“Of course, it’s always going to be levelled at him that he’s not scoring at the top level and people may try and diminish his achievement but, if he can reach 40 for the season as has been talked about, that would be fantastic.”