In keeping with the importance Mark Warburton attaches to attention to detail, media conferences at the Rangers Football Centre are usually notable for their punctuality.
But it was some time after the appointed hour yesterday before the Rangers manager and nominated player emerged from a team meeting in which they had picked the bones from their 2-0 defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle on Wednesday night.
If the exchange of views during the discussion was as honest and frank as midfielder Andy Halliday was when he took his seat to face reporters, then it is safe to assume no-one’s feelings were spared among Warburton’s squad, who must realise they have reached a critical juncture of the Ibrox club’s first season back in the top flight.
While their three Premiership losses so far have all come away from home against the top three teams from last season in Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts, their generally unconvincing form overall is the source of greatest concern to supporters now questioning Warburton’s methods.
Halliday remains a committed advocate of his manager’s football philosophy and insists that view is shared by all of his team-mates. But he pulled no punches when assessing the failings on their behalf which have left their credentials as challengers for second place in the table in doubt ahead of tomorrow’s Ibrox showdown with Aberdeen.
“What was supposed to be a 15-minute analysis session today ended up as an hour-long heated debate,” said the 25-year-old. “And quite rightly so. It has got to be ironed out. At the end of the day, we have got to put words into practice. So it’s up to us to get our fingers out and start to perform.
“Every defeat is hard to take at this football club, but none more so than Wednesday. Fundamentally, we talk about styles of play and what we’re good at and what we’re not good at, but you have got to earn the right to play football. You have got to win your own individual battle and compete all over the park and we just didn’t do that.
“It was probably one of the most disappointing performances since I have been at this football club. We let everyone down. We let the manager down and we let the fans down. We lost the battle all over the park. All credit to Hearts, I thought they thoroughly deserved to win.
“It didn’t matter if we were 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2. If you don’t play well, you don’t deserve to win games. There is no bigger believer than me in how we are trying to play football. In my opinion, it is the right way to play, especially with the type of football players we have got at the club. But if you’re not performing well and not competing as an individual then you’re not going to win football games. It is as simple as that and that is why in my opinion it obviously wasn’t good enough.
“We have just had a lengthy discussion and analysis about it. What we said in there, I am going to keep behind closed doors. But as football players, we have got to understand game management. When we know teams are set up a certain way we have got to find a solution, we have got to combat that. We have got numerous solutions which we can go through to try and beat the press and get out and play. But we just sort of abandoned it after the first one and we played into Hearts’ hands. It was extremely disappointing.
“The beauty of this manager is he’s got an open floor for the boys to discuss how they feel. Ultimately, it’s always going to be the manager’s decision but the boys have all chipped in with what we thought was right and what we thought was wrong at Tynecastle. We’ve come together as a group and made an agreement of what we have to do to move forward.
“That’s why we all love playing under this football manager, he’s not arrogant enough in himself that he can’t listen to his own players and what their opinions are. So we’ve got an open floor to discuss it.
“There are certain moves we’ve got to go through and certain things that we had to agree on to make us better moving forward. It’s the same system we’ve played over the past 18 months and the progress we’ve made since the gaffer’s come here has been significant for all to see.
“There have been far too many poor results this season and there’s no-one more so than me hurting over that. But it’s certainly nothing to do with the formation or the style of play, it’s just up to us to perform and compete on the park. When you look at a lot of the games where we’ve dropped points this year, fundamentally we’ve not played well.
“Celtic have made their best league start since 2004 and they are playing well and winning games, deservedly so. If we’re not playing well, we don’t deserve to win games. We’re not a Barcelona, we’re not a Bayern Munch, a team full of match-winners. We only play well when the team plays well. So if you’ve got three or four bodies that aren’t performing that given day, then you don’t deserve to win football matches.”
Halliday is dismissive of any suggestion Warburton merits bearing the brunt of the increasing levels of criticism Rangers’ performances are attracting.
“That’s totally, totally unfair,” he said. “He’s the best manager I’ve ever worked under, he’s a pleasure to work under on the training field every single day. People deserve their opinion but I’m the biggest believer in what the gaffer is trying to do here. I hear murmurs of what’s been said on the telly about him and what-not but ultimately it’s up to us to put it right.”