Maybe it will all turn out fine for Rangers. Maybe today Joey Barton will make his peace with Ibrox manager Mark Warburton, pledging to be less strident with his opinions in testing times. And that will allow 53-year-old Warburton to relax a little, ease into getting the most from his resources and lead the Ibrox side to a creditable second in the Premiership (a challenge to Celtic isn’t realistic, despite yesterday bringing the first dropped points of the season for Brendan Rodgers’ men).
Maybe. But there aren’t many signs that this promotion season for Rangers will produce happy ever afters. Before he undersold the banishment of Barton from training for the midfielder bumping his gums all too forcefully – it is arguing black is white to suggest an employee giving a report of a dispute on radio is an “internal matter” – Warburton, pictured, oversold the display of his team against a Ross County side that were committed and crafty.
Yes, they were much better than in going down 5-1 to Celtic and created a hatful of chances with a drive and determination they have often lacked across their previous five league outings. They were supplied energy by Josh Windass, Barrie McKay and the fit-again Jason Holt, while Martyn Waghorn, Joe Garner and Kenny Miller could supply goals.
However, even allowing for that, it isn’t enough to say “it was just one of those days”, as Warburton did. There are too many of those days, with Rangers finding a whole host of different ways not to win – as they haven’t in four of their six games.
Barton’s supposed belittling of their efforts in winning the Championship during the outburst on Thursday that led to him being told to stay away for the rest of the week amounted to him saying they had beaten “s*** teams in a s*** league” in taking the title. The retort was that they had also beaten Celtic without him – a reference to the penalty shoot-out success in the Scottish Cup semi-final.
How much Rangers, and so many observers, allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking this excellent semi-final showing proved they would be potential top-flight champions this season never ceases to amaze. On Saturday they shared an Ibrox pitch with a side who far more convincingly dumped Celtic in a semi-final at Hampden last season. Yet, that didn’t result in County – who, unlike Rangers, capitalised on seeing off Ronny Deila’s side by going on to lift a trophy, in the form of the League Cup – believing they were on the way to being title challengers.
Jim McIntyre’s men finished 38 points behind Celtic in the league. Vulnerabilities that opponents see in the Ibrox set-up, meanwhile, could be evidenced in the fact that County defender Andrew Davies sees no reason for his team to be points adrift of Rangers this season. Just now, Rangers are fifth and County are only a point behind in seventh.
“I think we can. I don’t see why we can’t,” he said when asked if his team could finish close to Warburton’s side. Davies was generous about how well the home team performed on Saturday, but said there wasn’t a “fear” coming to Ibrox. “We have new players and over a long season when people will pick up injuries, we will have guys who will step in and do a job. We have a belief within the group that we can compete with teams like Rangers. Saturday was a prime example,” he said.
Rangers full-back James Tavernier, following his manager in hailing the performance the season’s best, preferred to see Saturday as an example of how the campaign will turn for the better. Asked if he was confident things would come together for Rangers, who have scored only seven goals in taking nine points from a possible 18, he said: “Things came together against County. We just couldn’t get the ball over the line. I’m sure the luck will come and we will get two or three goals in a game.”
The disappointment that Warburton is feeling over the line of questioning he is facing from the media resulted in him taking his leave of us post-match over several attempts to impress on him that Barton making his club spat public merited a public response. He threatened to end the conference if comment remained Barton-related. It did and he politely took his leave with a “see you Tuesday”. He has to hope the Betfred League Cup quarter-final at home to Queen of the South tomorrow provides no cause for flight.