Events at Ibrox yesterday might have been akin to Rangers being brought down to earth on a patch of soft ground. Burnley may have outplayed and outmuscled them for long spells as former Mark Warburton signing Andre Gray helped himself to a hat-trick, but the comfort for those of a Rangers disposition is that, in the forthcoming Premiership campaign, their team won’t meet sides as accomplished at the Turf Moor side, who have regained a berth among England’s monied elite following last season’s Championship triumph.
The raising of the bar yesterday after Betfred Cup sectional matches wherein Warburton’s side claimed a perfect record without the concession of goal was all-too-perfectly illustrated by a conversation the Rangers manager had with his Burnley counterpart pre-match.
“You can’t build up and have the games that we’ve had,” said Warburton, returning to a common theme. “Sean Dyche said to me they tried to analyse us to see what we did at set pieces over the last two games but we haven’t had a corner against us. That was his comment. That’s not being disrespectful, it’s a fact. So we weren’t challenged enough in that format. Aberdeen in Europe, Hearts in Europe, Celtic playing the games they have. We’ve got to have that level of game in preparation for the season. But today was really good for us.”
It is worth pointing out that the only people responsible for depriving Rangers of European games in the past summer are the club’s football department since they were 2-1 up in the Scottish Cup final that would have supplied them entry into Europa League qualifiers and so spared them the Betfred Cup sections, only to ship in two late goals against Hibernian.
The loss of three goals at Hampden illustrated weaknesses that were exposed again yesterday to highlight the need for further recruitment in defence. Warburton was hopeful of making his tenth summer signing before Hamilton Accies are hosted at Ibrox next week.
“We need one or two more. We’ve said that for a number of weeks but you’ve got to get the right players in,” the Rangers manager said. “There are Burnley players rated £25 million and we can’t pay that. It’s a smaller talent pool but we know what we want and, if we can get it, we’ll make the move. I hope before next Saturday.”
The backline frailties of Rangers were seized upon in ruthless fashion by Gray who pounced with alacrity for his second and third goals, which followed a fourth-minute penalty that Warburton considered debatable. Clint Hill was the guilty party for the award, powerless to prevent Gray darting in behind him and adjudged to have then caught the forward, who despatched the penalty.
In the 18th minute, Scott Arfield sent Gray away and he produced a finish of utter conviction, wrapping his foot around the ball and curling an effort in at Wes Foderingham’s left-hand post. He brought up his hat-trick when receiving a flick-on from Lukas Jutkiewicz, and looking to take the ball around Lee Wallace. The defender got a toe on the ball, which only teed it up for Gray to slam into corner of net.
That came with only eight second half minutes played and then it appeared as if the friendly might get really ugly for Rangers. It didn’t as much for the fact that Burnley eased up, and allowed concentration to wander, which was evidenced in Ben Mee knocking the ball into his own net when attempting to turn away a byline cross from substitute Michael O’Halloran after 74 minutes.
“We said all along about the quality of opposition, playing an English Premier League team. You saw that. They were so well structured, really well organised, fantastic work ethic as you know from Sean and his staff and good individuals like Andre,” Warburton said.