Performance levels in the Rangers first team have risen dramatically since Warburton took over last summer, including those who emerged from the wreckage that was the 2015/16 season. Although, while Barrie McKay, Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace have improved tenfold, there’s only been marginal progression from Nicky Clark, Dean Shiels and Nicky Law. Heading into the biggest game of the season (unless you count the Old Firm semi as bigger than the final itself) Warburton now finds himself relying on one of them from the starting XI.
Martyn Waghorn will start in attack. He’s played only one competitive game since injuring himself in the replay at Kilmarnock back in February, but the lack of a natural right footed wide man - Michael O’Halloran and Billy King are cup-tied, while Harry Forrester is injured - will force Warburton into starting his top goalscorer as well as veteran Kenny Miller. They’ve done this a few times throughout the season to good effect, the pair rotating between the centre and the right as the match goes on. Clark will be called on to provide some energy, likely for a tiring Waghorn, in the final 20 minutes.
The crucial absentee could potentially come further back. Dominic Ball’s yellow card in the semi-final win over Celtic ruled him out of this encounter. Not only does it rob Rangers of their cover at centre back, it also leaves a void at defensive midfield. Andy Halliday will start there. He started the season in the position and has played well there. The problem is that, since the turn of the year, Warburton recognised the need to start Ball, a natural defender, ahead of Halliday, a natural attacker, in games against stronger sides.
With Halliday further back, it leaves a hole beside Jason Holt. Were Halliday out instead of Ball, Gedion Zelalem would probably have been given the nod as he’s a better passer of the ball and would potentially thrive in the extra room granted to him on the Hampden Park surface. But that would leave Rangers with a severely lightweight midfield three, so expect it to be either Law or Shiels alongside Holt. As Shiels got the nod in the semi-final, it’ll likely be him, with Law replacing him from the bench around the 60-minute mark.
The back four and goalkeeper will remain the same unit who’ve played together in around 90 per cent of games this season.