The Championship title win on Tuesday by Warburton’s side has been accompanied by many of a Rangers disposition – including midfielder and boyhood fan Andy Halliday – pinpointing an immediate Premiership challenge to the Parkhead side.
The derby rivals meet at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final in 11 days’ time, which will follow Rangers’ trip to the national stadium for this Sunday’s Petrofac Training Cup final against Peterhead.
Speaking yesterday, Warburton seemed keen to temper expectations when asked if the semi-final would show whether his team are capable of competing with the Scottish champions.
“It is a huge game,” the Ibrox manager said. “But I think, everybody involved, we’ve got that sense of realism. That’s really important. But before that we’ve got a really important Petrofac Cup final at Hampden on Sunday. Hopefully we can win that trophy, then we’ve got a week to prepare and go into a game with two targets achieved.
“All we [would] then need to do is go in there and deliver the performance [in the semi-final]. But we’re not losing sight of the fact that Celtic have had four, five, six years of Champions League football. They’ve got a squad packed with international players. And our job is to recognise where we are at the moment – and look to close that gap.
“We’re in a good place right now. We’re building a young squad and we’ve achieved the first goal, which is getting the club back in the top flight, which is great.
“But now we have to make sure we keep moving forward. And there is a lot of work to be done. You have to be honest on that front. There are gaps to be closed. What we have to do is keep building. If we keep moving in the right direction, we’ll be OK. What we can’t do is take our foot off the gas.”
Warburton, speaking to TalkSport, stressed that he wasn’t about to put his foot to the throat of his directors to demand a budget to match that of Celtic. Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson stated last week that Rangers would need to find millions to match Celtic’s £24 million annual football spend if they wanted to topple the Parkhead club. The Ibrox club’s annual spend is currently only around £8m.
“It wouldn’t be right of us as management, myself and the staff here, to go to the board with unrealistic targets,” Warburton said. “I think what we have to do is show that we do our homework – and recruit wisely. You look at the likes of players who have come in for us at our previous club [Brentford], guys like Andre Gray and Moses Odubaju, that shows we can recruit wisely. If we can do that and link those with one or two more experienced campaigners, I think we’ll be OK. I’ve said we need four or five to come in. We’re going to lose a couple. We’ve got a couple of young loanees, etc. So we hope we can get the right ones in.
“The work [on signing targets] has been going on for weeks now. There is no doubt about that. We’ve got one of the best in business in Frank McParland, who has joined David [Weir] and I up here. We hope we’re making good progress on a number of fronts. The worst thing we can do is go and spend money poorly, recruit poorly – and put the club back two or three phases.”