MARK Warburton has admitted his team cannot afford to stretch the patience of Rangers supporters too far as they bid to re-ignite their Championship title challenge this afternoon.
Since taking charge of the Ibrox side in June, Warburton has enjoyed widespread appreciation among the club’s fans of the style of football he has sought to implement.
You’ve got to ask yourself, do they have the character to play in front of 50,000 fans at Ibrox”MARK WARBURTON
But after delivering maximum points from their first 11 league games this season, his players have faltered by taking just eight points from their last six outings.
Ahead of today’s top-of-the-table showdown at Ibrox with in-form title rivals Hibs, who now only trail Rangers on goal difference, Warburton is aware that the degree of allowances made towards his largely youthful squad from their support has a limit.
“We have got to be careful with that message about the need for patience,” said Warburton. “The fans have been outstanding, magnificent to us, from the very first day of pre-season.
“It is all very well us telling them that this is how we want to play the game, that the average age of the team has come down significantly and that we have a lot of younger players bedding in. But patience is difficult among all fans.
“They want to see their club do well and win. Particularly at Rangers, given what has happened at the club over the last four or five years. The expectations are very understandable.
“We hope they are patient with us and they have been patient with us. But what we have to go and do now is deliver a run of consistently high-level performances.
“If the fans can see what we are doing, if they can see we are asking a defender to try and get on the ball on the edge of his own box under pressure and deal with the football…
“That’s what we’re asking them to do. Many, many players who can’t aspire to that get dominated by the football, we’re asking our young players to dominate the football. We’re asking our players if they make a mistake, do it again. And if the fans can see that and if you couple that with work ethic and commitment, then hopefully they will be happy.”
Warburton is relishing the prospect of a sold-out Ibrox today and is confident his players can cope with the additional pressure that brings from the stands.
“I am looking forward to it because it is good for the boys to taste that, feel that and understand the expectation. But it is just another three points. Nothing will be won or lost in terms of the title. You have to look at the bigger picture.
“We have to recognise that and respect an opponent in Hibs who have put a run together. It is always difficult for any club in any division to put a run together, as we did earlier this season, so all credit to them, but we have to respond to it and put in a good performance.
“I think our players have got to grips with playing at Ibrox. But what people fail to fully grasp is how it impacts the recruitment of players. You have got to ask yourself: Do they have the character to play in front of 50,000 fans at Ibrox? Football fans think ‘Oh, I would love to be playing there!’.
“But as soon as you pull a blue jersey on and go out there, and the first ball goes astray or into Row Z and the moans and groans start, then you are asking your own players to have enormous strength of character and a real resolve and determination and that is what we have.”
Rangers saw their blistering start to the Championship campaign halted in their previous meeting with Hibs on 1 November when they lost 2-1 at Easter Road.
But Warburton believes Rangers were still the better team that afternoon and simply found themselves on the wrong side of an arbitrary set of circumstances.
“My previous owner at Brentford [Matthew Benham] was a really smart, clever individual and, although we didn’t agree on everything, I learned a lot from him,” said Warburton.
“He speaks a lot about the random nature of football. The ball drops in the box and it hits a defender’s knees and it goes out of play when it was about to get smashed into the net. A corner is given instead of a goal kick or whatever. There’s this random nature in football.
“He used to talk about Borussia Dortmund, who were second bottom of the Bundesliga at one point but, in his eyes, they were the fourth best team in Europe. So the random nature of football doesn’t always reflect a team’s superiority or strength.
“In games like the second half of that one against Hibs at Easter Road, or in the last half hour against Falkirk last week when we lost 2-1, we know how well we played.
“Against Hibs that day, Nathan Oduwa hit the bar at 1-1, their ‘keeper made a great save, we didn’t get a penalty decision in the first two minutes when Jason Holt was fouled. They are the sort of things we are talking about. You just hope the random events even themselves out over the season.”