We look at Mark Warburton’s immediate future at Rangers with Aberdeen going second, Hearts resurgence and the recent draw with Ross County
The answer appears simple. Even though Celtic began disappearing over the horizon in the autumn, Rangers have stuck with their manager. Just because they’ve picked up one point from the past two games, and saw his side slip into third for the first time since November, doesn’t mean he’s going to get the bullet.
There have been a number of potential “crisis” points this season, and yet Rangers have rallied enough to keep their head coach in the Ibrox hotseat.
However, the difference now is that supporters are fast running out of patience. And while the board have shown loyalty with their manager, it will be tested if Rangers make their dissatisfaction known in more stringent ways, such as protests or slow season ticket number renewals when the time comes later this campaign.
What’s most galling for supporters is seeing the same problems over and over again. There was a brief period in December where Mark Warburton looked ready to embrace change, as he installed an added dimension of directness to their play, which suited the strengths of Joe Garner. However, on Saturday, it was a reenactment of the same issues that have popped up throughout Warburton’s tenure. They were disorganised in defence, powerpuff in midfield and didn’t do enough in attack with the amount of possession they had. Things got better in the second half and, based on that performance alone, they should have won the game, but County can rightly claim that, with better finishing themselves, they could have had the match out of sight by half-time.
Warburton, not for the first time, pointed to the match stats being overwhelmingly in Rangers’ favour. But it’s the seventh time this season that his side have finished with more possession and more shots than his opponents and failed to win the game. When does it stop being bad luck and begin representing a fundamental problem with the way the team is set out?
Even in games they do win, it’s often a lot nervier than it should be. Celtic, by contrast, have defeated opponents by three or more goals nine times in the league. Rangers have only done so once. Even if, like Warburton, you believe comparisons with Celtic are not fair because of budgetary restrictions, they still don’t reflect well when compared with Aberdeen, for example, who’ve bettered teams by three goals or more on four occasions in the league.
There’s also the poor away record against the league’s tougher sides, a problem that goes back to last season. Falkirk and Hibs had a 100 per cent league record in home matches against Rangers, and the same goes for Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts this term - eight defeats in eight games across 18 months of football. Warburton, though, insists there is no problem.
The reaction to some of his quotes over the last week from Rangers fans shows the changing shift in opinion. A popular manager, even when he makes little logical sense, will typically have the full backing of the club’s support. That was not the case at all when, first, Warburton said his substitution of Emerson Hyndman in the defeat to Hearts was to protect Bournemouth’s “asset”, and second, when he performed some mathematical and logical gymnastics to suggest things would look a lot better if Celtic had won four fewer games.
In fairness, it was a terrible way of putting forward his point, which was that it’s unfair to compare this Rangers team to the current Celtic side, as Brendan Rodgers and his Bhoys are currently on course to break an astounding number of records. Although, even if you take the points total Celtic had last season at this stage under Ronny Deila they would still be 12 points ahead of Rangers. It’s unlikely the fans would stand for that, either.
Rangers do have a favourable run of fixtures coming up. They host Morton in the Scottish Cup this weekend before back-to-back away games with Dundee and Inverness CT, two grounds where they’ve already won this season, and then a midweek home game against St Johnstone. If they get past Morton and receive a favourable draw then they could be proud owners of a five-game winning streak going into the next clash with Celtic. Though they’ll likely get another humbling at Parkhead, building up some positive momentum, including a place in the Scottish Cup semis, would restore some credit in the bank.
However, that’s a lot of ifs. And even if they do manage to reel off such a run, as there’s little evidence this season to suggest this will be the case, it still might not propel them above Aberdeen before the Celtic game. The Dons host Motherwell and Ross County and travel to Kilmarnock (where they always win) and Hamilton in their next four games, as they also retain a game in hand over Warburton’s side at the moment.
There’s not a whole lot of difference between second and third - they both gain entry into the Europa League at the same time - but finishing in the top two was a “non-negotiable” for Dave King. Unless Celtic hand out another thrashing in any remaining Old Firm game, and unless Aberdeen (or Hearts) pull away in second place, you’d have to believe Warburton will be given the chance to complete this objective.
Aberdeen have been known for their peaks and troughs over the past 18 months, so this great run they’re on at the moment (five wins from six in the league) may not continue as we expect. And seeing as Rangers are only behind on goal difference now, 24 games in, we’d have to presume they will be there or thereabouts once we get to the split.
Though he’ll likely go the distance this term, unless there is significant improvement in results and the overall quality of play, you’d have to imagine Rangers will be looking for a new manager come the summer.