Mark Warburton: St Johnstone tie isn’t biggest test

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RANGERS manager Mark Warburton has dismissed the notion St Johnstone will provide the sternest examination yet of his team’s 100 per cent winning record tonight.

The League Cup third-round tie at Ibrox is being viewed by many as a litmus test for Warburton’s Championship leaders who have racked up 11 consecutive victories under his guidance so far this season.

Mark Warburton says silverware would be a big lift for fans. Picture: SNS

Mark Warburton says silverware would be a big lift for fans. Picture: SNS

But, as the Englishman prepares for his first assignment against Scottish top-flight opposition, he does not believe Rangers have much of a gap to bridge.

Warburton, in fact, is confident his side would be highly competitive at the top end of the Premiership if they were plying their trade there already.

“No, I don’t see this as our biggest test, not at all,” said Warburton. “Far from it. Every game has apparently been a test for us this season – we had a test against Hibs in the Petrofac Training Cup on the first day, we had a test against St Mirren because they’d come down from the Premiership.

“We had tests against Alloa and Queen of the South on different surfaces. So every game has been a test for us so far – this is just the next game.

“We will be very respectful of the fact St Johnstone are a top-six Premiership team. They’ve won a trophy in recent times and have European experience. They’re no fools.

“They are a very good outfit and we have to be prepared for that. But I think we are. We’re on a good run, we’re playing good football, we’re confident and we know we are fit. I don’t think the gulf between the Premiership and Championship in Scotland is as big as the gulf in England. That’s purely because of the financial climate.

“Of course there’s a difference – you look at the likes of Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts and they are tremendously talented teams. But, at the same time, we are performing well, too.

“If we were in the Premiership just now, we would have a couple more players because we’d need a bit more depth for that level. But I think we would be faring very well there. It’s all hypothetical at the moment, but we are a good squad – technically sound, physically strong with good tactical awareness and strong mental belief.

“The fact we have won 11 games on the spin so far tells you that we have good quality in those four key areas.

“I’m not saying we are the best or anything like that, only that we are in a good position right now and we want to keep on building from here.”

Warburton is perhaps wise not to regard this evening’s tie as a barometer of Rangers’ progress. They have faced top- flight opponents on 10 occasions since their financial collapse in 2012, winning four and losing six of those matches.

Three of the victories came last season – against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock – but ultimately proved a wholly unreliable indicator of Rangers’ credentials for a return to the Premiership.

Promotion remains Warburton’s overriding priority for his first season in the job but he is also appreciative of what winning one of the national domestic cup competitions would represent for Rangers. “It would obviously provide a big lift for the fans,” he added. “The players we have brought up from England can’t believe the amount of attention they receive and the passion from the fans.

“It would be great to give them something back. Everyone knows what our targets are this season. It’s not rocket science to work out what we have to achieve.”

Rangers captain Lee Wallace is still waiting for his first major honour at the club, having anticipated it would be a regular 
occurrence when he joined them from Hearts four years ago.

“Winning cups was one of my main priorities back then,” said the 28-year-old. “I remember saying at my first press conference that I was coming into a dressing room full of winners and I wanted to become one of them.

“Obviously, I didn’t know what was about to happen to the club. But now we are only looking forward and hopefully this season can be the one when we are trophy winners.

“The fans have been used to watching teams winning and lifting trophies. It hasn’t happened for a few years and we are hungry to do it for them.”

Wallace feels a personal sense of indebtedness to the Rangers support after they unveiled a giant banner with his image on it during the team’s last home game against Livingston in recognition of his permanent appointment as captain.

“My girlfriend had let me know before the game that the banner was going to be there,” said Wallace. “She must have found out through one of the social media sites – I’m not into that stuff myself.

“When I saw it and I heard the crowd, it was just phenomenal. I never expected that in a million years, to be honest.

“The adrenaline I got from scoring that day and seeing that banner unfurled was superb. I can only thank the fans and it just drives me on and makes me hungrier for the team to give as much back to them as we can this season.”