Rangers set out to protect title lead without injured Waghorn

Rangers' Martyn Waghorn.

Rangers' Martyn Waghorn.

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The loss of Martyn Waghorn with a knee injury suffered at Kilmarnock on Tuesday for an undefined period is a blow that Rangers and Mark Warburton could well have done without.

The Ibrox men head for Dumfries on Sunday afternoon aiming to consolidate their eight-point lead in the Championship race.

The loss of Warburton’s leading goal-scorer will to an extent be offset by the return of both Michael O’Halloran and Billy King - but Waghorn has found the net on 28 occasions and no team can afford to lose such a prolific marksman for the six-eight week estimated sabbatical, although with only that Rugby Park penalty to show for his last six outings there is little doubt that the striker had to an extent gone off the boil.

Warburton, though, remains positive over Waghorn’s absence.

“We would like to welcome him back before the end of the season. He has had a scan and thankfully no surgery is required,” he said.

“He is seeing a specialist in London to get a more detailed report.”

The playing surface at Palmerston Park is yet another artificial pitch, the subject of much controversy this week with Rangers with the surface at Rugby Park suggested as the cause of Waghorn’s knee injury.

The Glasgow side didn’t have too many problems back in August on their previous visit to Dumfries - a comfortable 5-1 win included two Waghorn penalties - but it was a different story in mid-October at Ibrox.

The ‘Doonhamers’ came agonisingly close to being the first team to deprive Rangers of their 100 per cent League record when only a last-minute ‘Waggy’ header secured a home win after the striker had missed a penalty for the first time 60 seconds earlier.

Both Palmerston Park and Queen of the South presented the Ibrox men with more than a few problems last season when the regular campaign saw the home side win 2-0 and 3-0 before - under then acting manager Stuart McCall - Rangers eked out a 2-1 win in the first leg of the play-off quarter finals. Queens currently occupy fourth place in the division with 31 points from 22 games and will be desperate to retain that play-off spot come the campaign’s close.

For Rangers, Nicky Clark is one possible replacement for Waghorn along with Michael O’Halloran, who may be a more direct replacement given that Waghorn has tended to operate wide right in the middle of the park in recent weeks. It is unlikely that there will be many further changes in the visitors’ starting line-up.

Meanwhile many have expressed surprise in the light of this week’s injury setback that youngster Ryan Hardie has been allowed to join Raith Rovers on a 28-day emergency loan deal, but Mark Warburton clearly believes that he has sufficient cover. Time will tell.