Martyn Waghorn doesn’t just fancy his own chances when pitted against Premiership defenders next season, he also fancies the Ibrox club to build on last Sunday’s Old Firm success and this term’s Championship form and challenge for the top-flight title.
“Of course. It’s Rangers Football Club we’re playing for and we want to be competing at the highest level,” the striker said. “Last week showed we’re really not that far away. We’re still a new squad, it’s our first season with the new manager and new players. We’ve shown how good we can be so why not? We’re going to add a few more people, I’m sure, and it’s all about kicking on and how we all blend in.
“I’m sure we’ll keep the core of the team together and we’re all young and hungry and want to achieve a lot of things, make history for Rangers and get the club back where it belongs,” added Waghorn, who joins team-mate Lee Wallace, as well as Hibs’ John McGinn and Jason Cummings on the shortlist for PFA Scotland’s Players’ Player of the Year for the second tier. Rewarded for his 28 goals in 34 appearances, he hopes to add a few more in the final weeks of the campaign, having returned to full training after a knee injury sidelined him in February. And, having missed out on the Petrofac Cup final and the Championship clinching clashes, he has set his sights on playing a key role in the Scottish Cup final.
But even watching from the sidelines, last weekend’s Old Firm match fed his hunger to sample the fixture on the pitch next term and vie with their Glasgow rivals in all competitions as Rangers, who host Alloa today, attempt to not only close the gap but leapfrog everyone else to finish top of the Premiership.
“We’ve already won promotion so now everything is geared towards getting ready for the first game [of next season] and the challenges that lie ahead. I’m hopeful we can really compete,” said Waghorn.
“We’ve got a nice few weeks ahead of us, getting ready for the final, but the preparations start now to face everyone in the top flight next season. We’ve beaten Celtic now and Hibs in the Petrofac – two of our big rivals – and I think that shows the quality we’ve still got despite playing in the second tier. We’ve been able to compete on all fronts and it really sets a standard for where we want to be next season and how we want to compete. We’ve got a really young and hungry side who will step up and deliver next season.”
Describing his period of rehabilitation as a long, painful nine weeks, having helped lay the foundations, the Englishman was gutted to sit out the games where the title was wrapped up and, especially pained to be denied a taste of Old Firm action, even chancing his arm and pleading unsuccessfully with manager Mark Warburton for a premature return to the squad for last weekend’s encounter.
He concedes he wasn’t ready and understood Warburton’s decision to ignore his appeals but if that disappointed, the match itself did not. “The occasion probably exceeded my expectations,” he said. “You watch it on TV and listen to tales of past games from the boys but I spoke to Lee Wallace, Kenny Miller and Davie Weir and they said it was one of the biggest Old Firm games. The atmosphere was incredible from start to finish. It was something else. I’ve still got a bit of a sore throat now from shouting and getting involved.”
But he says a starring role at Hampden on 21 May would make up for the big games he has had to sit out. “We’ve had a great season so far but I missed the Petrofac final and the Scottish Cup semi-final,” he added. “It’s funny to think we’ll meet Hibs for a sixth time – that can happen. We’ve got that little rivalry going on and it will be a nice little build-up. It’s a chance for the team to hopefully win a treble. We’ve got another three games in the league before that and it would be nice to be a part of that and be ready for the big one at the end.”