Joey Barton to make Rangers debut from bench in cup clash
Few recruits in Scottish football in recent years have generated as much intrigue and anticipation as Barton has since he agreed a two-year contract with Rangers at the end of May.
The 33-year-old former England midfielder did not officially join Rangers until 1 July and missed their pre-season training camp in South Carolina.
He was not deemed ready to make his debut in Saturday’s Betfred Cup opener against Motherwell at Fir Park but Rangers manager Mark Warburton has confirmed Barton will appear from the bench when their Group F campaign continues at home to League 2 side Annan this evening.
Three more of Warburton’s close-season signings – goalkeeper Matt Gilks, full-back Lee Hodson and central defender Clint Hill – will also make their debuts.
“We will make a few changes,” said Warburton. “Matt, Lee and Clint will come in and Niko Kranjcar, who came on as a sub at Motherwell, will start.
“Joey won’t figure from the start but he’ll feature at some point, which will help him get used to it at Ibrox. Everyone’s champing at the bit to play because they’re all winners.
“Some are further behind than others in terms of training – Joey started later than the others and didn’t go to Charleston with us. Niko got half an hour on Saturday so we’ll up that to an hour and we’ll keep increasing that load.
“Everything is geared towards 6 August and the league starting but, with the games coming thick and fast, we’ve got to be careful and ensure things aren’t too intense too early.
“Joey is just four or five days into training with us but you can see his intensity straight away. You look at Niko on Saturday, he played for half an hour and he sees everything so early which is great.
“We’ve got a number of good players in the squad, so they’ll respond to what we already had and hopefully we’ll be better for their presence now.
“But you’ve got to keep pushing forward, we can’t be satisfied with what we had last year, we’ve got to get better and better.”
Warburton, who hopes to complete the signing of Leicester City striker Joe Dodoo over the next couple of days, is satisfied with the overhaul of his squad ahead of Rangers’ return to the top flight of Scottish football.
“Eight players went out over the summer, we’ve replaced them with nine so far and hopefully we will make that ten or 11,” said Warburton.
“It was well documented we needed some experience, we needed maturity. We relied heavily on Lee Wallace and Kenny Miller in that department last season, so it’s good to get in proven experience in Clint, Niko and Joey.
“At the same time young Josh Windass, Matt Crooks and Jordan Rossiter will also make a real difference. I hope the balance is good. We’re pleased with the recruitment but we need one or two more.”
Warburton believes giving his new signings an early taste of performing at Ibrox is important before the Premiership campaign kicks off on 6 August.
“Although it won’t be the normal size of Ibrox crowd on Tuesday night, there will still be a good turn-out and it will help the players to get accustomed to the stadium and the playing surface.
“We have two home games in the League Cup before Burnley come up for a friendly on 30 July, so we’ll make sure everyone has that experience. I know from my own experience that you don’t fully appreciate the scale of Ibrox until your first game.
“You don’t even realise at first that there’s a third tier on the Main Stand. When you’re on the touchline, you look behind and see the director’s box and then there’s another level above that as well.
“When you walk round the far side, you understand the sheer size of it. It’s a proper football ground. Even the golfers at last week’s Callaway event at Ibrox, including Henrik Stenson, commented on the size and scale of the arena. It’s a fantastic place to play football and the surface is in excellent shape.
“When we go for our pre-match meal with the players, we walk up the marble staircase and past the various caps and badges which give them a sense of the history of the place.
“So the players experience that, they have a look in the Blue Room and the Trophy Room. What we need to do now is get their photographs up there. We did it last year by winning the Championship and the Petrofac Training Cup but we need more pictures up on those walls. That means winning trophies and league titles.”