Mark Warburton has warned that Rangers will still have to spend heavily to match Celtic in the Premiership next season.
The Ibrox manager made it clear to the club’s board that they cannot allow Sunday’s dramatic Scottish Cup semi-final win over Celtic to lull them into a false sense of complacency over the amount of investment still required to pose a serious challenge.
On an extraordinary afternoon at Hampden, Warburton’s side potentially pushed his Celtic counterpart Ronny Deila to the brink of dismissal by the Scottish champions who lost a pulsating contest 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw over 120 minutes.
While Deila’s future is uncertain, Warburton’s stock with the Rangers supporters could not be higher. The Englishman is now on course to add the Scottish Cup to the Championship and Petrofac Training Cup silverware he has secured in his first season as manager. If Rangers can defeat Hibernian in the final on 21 May, they will also qualify for the Europa League qualifiers.
Warburton, who was only able to name five substitutes on Sunday because of injury and ineligibility among his small first-team squad, insists Rangers have significant work to do to fully address the gulf he feels still separates them from Celtic. “Absolutely, the gap is there,” said Warburton. “Don’t be fooled by that. The better team won today but there is a gap there and we’ve got to recognise that.
“We cannot go into next season feeling satisfied with second, third or fourth in the Premiership. We need to go into the season to be highly competitive.
“We know we are now possibly 90 minutes away from Europe and that impacts on our recruitment as well. If we do win the final then we have got to add one or two more players in terms of depth in the squad.
“So, again, that type of conversation [with the board] has to go on. But we have been making rapid strides. There will be down times, there will be bad days as well, so you have to make sure you are ready for them and try and recruit wisely, get the environment right and keep on pushing forward.”
While keen to stress the need for significant transfer activity this summer, Warburton was also hugely gratified by his team’s level of performance against Celtic which he felt provided the perfect response to those who had predicted Deila’s side would represent an insurmountable step up in class for his players.
“What today also showed was that the gap is nowhere near as big as certain people have made out,” added Warburton.
“I’m delighted for the fans. Their level of support was magnificent. They’ve been to some dark places in the last four or five years so it’s great they can enjoy days like these. We were down to the bare minimum with just 16 players. But we deserved to win the game.”
The meeting of two Championship clubs in this year’s Scottish Cup final will end East Fife’s prized record as the only team from outside the top tier of Scottish football to win the trophy when they did so in 1938.