Admittedly, “closest” is a bit of a misnomer as Brendan Rodgers’ side have no challengers in already establishing a nine-point lead. Yet, the Ibrox side sit behind only the Scottish champions despite the fact they have been bang-average for large parts of this campaign. That could prove both frustrating and strangely comforting to Warburton.
The Englishman has been nipped at the “end of the world is nigh” tone in the coverage of his team’s toils to exhibit any sort of command across their top-flight excursions these past few months. He should blame his board, his support, his players and, perhaps, even himself for that.
All of the above were complicit in promoting a narrative that Rangers would be pushing for the title this season following their Championship success. It was preposterous, and unnecessary, and has been the cause of much avoidable grief. What this season was all about for Rangers was making their £10 million wage bill count. With the figure at least double the outlay of ten Premiership sides, this spend ought to guarantee them second to five-in-a-row title holders whose squad investment is pushing up to the £30m mark.
It should not have takenw until their 11th league game for Rangers to deliver the sort of going-over that their financial advantages ought to make them capable of inflicting on the many teams at the level of Kilmarnock. A performance that was the cheese to the chalk of the scrambled 1-1 draw at home to St Johnstone in midweek.
However, it is where the Ibrox club go from here that now matters – as captain Lee Wallace, who opened the scoring in 15 minutes, readily acknowledged.
“It was a lot more like us and we are pleased but we can’t stand still,” said Wallace, pictured inset. “That can now act as the benchmark for how we go about our business. It has to be the norm in terms of our level of performance.”
Warburton talked of his side possessing “dynamism” against overwhelmed visitors who, it should be noted, were in fine form beforehand. There was a balance and unity of purpose to the Ibrox attacks, with Josh Windass crafting them, as the drive and directness of Michael O’Halloran and Kenny Miller in wide areas, and Joe Garner centrally, made it seem like the home side could bag any number of goals. In the end a 47th-minute third from Garner, after Andy Halliday converted from the spot in the 29th minute, sufficed for the club’s most emphatic league win in nine months.
With the result, a support that had made plain their disaffection four days earlier were given reason to change their tune.
“The fans were disappointed on Wednesday, as were we. We were really disappointed in dropping two points,” Wallace stated. “A lot was said about that and we understood the fans’ reaction. I’ve said 101 times that that’s the demand on this football club. They put the demand on us as a team and as individuals. We respect that. The fans trust us, they demand the best from us and I thought we delivered against Kilmarnock.
“It was the best performance of the season. We felt that after just five minutes, Kilmarnock knew we were right at it. The demands are good, we relish the pressure and we showed exactly how brave we can be.
“We showed how good we can be technically, too, and the performance was more like us. Overall, everyone was sent home happy.” Now there was a first this season.