When Rangers striker Martyn Waghorn missed the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic with a knee injury sustained two months earlier, it seemed as if he was missing out on the club’s biggest game of the season. The 26-year-old initially held that view. Then he had another thought.
“You always want to play against Celtic, that game is one of the reasons you come to Rangers, so to miss out was a blow, but deep down I knew I was going to get a chance in the final.
“It worked out well. The boys did a great job and I can’t be disappointed to be back for the final. I can’t wait. I’ve been like a big kid the past few days getting ready for this. The training has gone well and I got a good 80 minutes under my belt last week [in a closed-doors game] against Spurs, so I’m desperate to get going.”
Waghorn, the club’s top scorer with 28 goals despite having not played competitively since the middle of February, admits to have being “really done a favour” by the scheduling that means the club’s tilt for the Scottish Cup against Hibernian on Saturday arrives three weeks after Mark Warburton’s side’s successful Championship campaign concluded.
The forward had hoped to earn some minutes in the final league game, which he confessed made his attempts to turn out against Celtic in the semi-final six weeks ago utterly futile. He didn’t want to be told that then by Warburton. His attitude is very different now.
“It was the right decision in the end,” he said. “Realistically I was nowhere near ready to play. I had played in one or two non-contact sessions. But I knew that if I went into that match then I was going to be smashed.
“I was nowhere near ready, and the gaffer knew what he was doing in line with the medical staff. I respect the decisions made by the professionals. I understood why I was being left out, even if it was hard to deal with.
“It was the most logical thing. I could have injured myself again just turning – not even a tackle. It might have been the most innocuous of things and I’d have been done. The extra few weeks I’ve had to recover has been perfect for me. I knew that my knee was fine but on a matchday anything can happen so I’m really pleased with how it’s gone. I was blowing a bit in the first half against Spurs but it was a good test against a young, hungry side.”
The team that Warburton has built could be described in that fashion. For now anyway. Were Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar to be enticed to Ibrox, that would change everything – both the make-up of the squad and the perception of a club seeking to end five years without a major trophy and in the process guarantee European competition returning to Ibrox.
“Rangers are one of the biggest clubs in the world and the chance to win cup after cup, year in year out, is huge. There is the prospect of playing in Europe, winning leagues, qualifying for the Champions League. It is a huge club and that is why I came here – the chance to win trophies and to challenge myself at the highest level. For anyone down south looking up, you realise how big the club is but it is only when you come here you understand how big it really actually is.”
Warburton has made a virtue of operating with a squad that is tight in more than one sense of the word. He has kept the numbers limited and put together types that have formed a strong bond. Throwing Barton, pictured below, into that mix – whose bampottery and bull-in-a-china-shop attitude to speaking out is infamous – could threaten the harmony that has been key to the club’s revival this season.
As a Sunderland fan, Waghorn joked he will “have a few words” with the former Newcastle man, should he arrive from Burnley. The Rangers striker makes no bones of what will be expected of him by the group he would join in that event.
“It is up to the staff to keep an eye on it, keep a lid on it,” Waghorn said of the potential for any disruption in recruiting a player who “doesn’t hold back”. “He would be coming into a good set of lads and I don’t think we will accept it as a group of boys if anyone is out of line. Understandably, everyone is entitled to their opinions but we do it in the right way. We do it in a constructive way and if he does cross the line that is when issues start coming up. We all know where we stand in this team, it is on a professional level and it is never personal.
“If you have your boundaries and you take it as constructive criticism it is alright. When it starts getting outside of that then you have got issues. You hear stories in the papers and the press about what he has been like before. But you don’t know until you are actually in and around him. He is not here, it is far from done so we will see. He is a big character and a very good player with great experience so he could add something to the team.”