Mark Warburton is relieved Rangers have not exhausted all their options as they face up to playing the remainder of the campaign without either of their marquee signings.
The Ibrox manager hoped former QPR duo Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar would give Rangers the vital experience they would need to take on Brendan Rodgers’ new-look Celtic. But neither move has worked out the way Warburton had hoped for. Barton is unlikely to ever play for the club again after a furious training ground bust-up with the manager in the wake of September’s 5-1 Old Firm defeat. And Croat playmaker Kranjcar, who was just starting to hit top gear after struggling to find his fitness, is now out for the rest of the campaign after tearing his cruciate ligament.
Both incidents have come as a bitter blow to Warburton and the Englishman has been forced to firefight on a number of fronts this term as his management of the Glasgow giants came into question.
But green shoots of recovery were evident last week when Rangers put on their slickest display of the season to beat Kilmarnock 3-0 and that has given Warburton reason to be optimistic.
Reflecting on the unfortunate turn of events which followed Barton and Kranjcar’s captures, he said: “Things happen in football. That’s how the game is. Sometimes you think you have the bases covered but that is when you are most exposed.
“But right now, for example, I’m delighted with the way Andy Halliday has stepped into the breach. He has been outstanding.
“Jason Holt was out for nigh on six weeks and it took him a couple of weeks to get his fitness but you saw against Kilmarnock the impact he can have, the cleverness of his play. Likewise with Josh Windass. He had a hamstring injury that hampered him over his first few weeks here but he’s now finding his fitness and impacting on games. Michael O’Halloran has been very good for the last two games also, so we are using the squad. We’ve also got Martyn Waghorn, Harry Forrester, Barrie McKay – we’ve got options.”
Rangers face their first ever league match in Dingwall this afternoon but Warburton believes his team will be welcomed to the Highlands by Ross County who are unfortunate to be sitting second bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
“The results have been unfair on Ross County,” he said. “Anyone who watched the games will agree they didn’t deserve those results. They are a very good team, they are very well managed by Jim McIntyre and we know the quality they possess.
“It’s a tough place to go. It’s a new one for me but we want these tests.”
McIntyre, inset, admits his side’s spirits are sagging and has urged County to strike first against Rangers to give themselves the lift they desperately need to halt a run of nine games without a win. The Highlanders’ boss admits that a record of nine goals in 12 matches is to blame, but he believes a turnaround is possible if his team can make early inroads today.
He said: “We really do need to start sticking away our chances. We’re creating plenty but not taking them.
“We’ve scored the first goal three times and taken seven out of nine points from those games. That explains how important that first goal is. There have been several games where we have lost the first goal and come back but not managed to win the game. The boys are working as hard as they can but where we are failing is that we are making individual errors that are costing us. When you’ve not won in nine games and are making those kind of mistakes, it harms confidence. But one positive result could change that all again.”
It is just six months since McIntyre led County to their first ever major trophy with their League Cup triumph. But they have not had the start the boss was looking for, with only a point saving them from sitting bottom. Yet the tight nature of the league means the Staggies are only four points away from the top half of the table but McIntyre insists that fact does not excuse his side’s sloppy start to the campaign.“
“We’ve got a far better squad than what we are showing at the minute but the mistakes we’re making are having an effect on our confidence.”