Rangers manager Mark Warburton looking forward to Ibrox party
It will be party time at Ibrox on Saturday afternoon with the presentation of the Championship trophy following the conclusion of the final home League game of the season against Alloa Athletic.
There remains much work to be done of course - not least of which is the forthcoming Scottish Cup Final against Hibernian – and no-one will recognise that more than Mark Warburton, who if he did not realise it beforehand certainly does now know exactly the strains and pressures imposed on any Rangers manager.
Last Sunday’s memorable defeat of great rivals Celtic was no sooner over than the critics were out in force following the 2-3 loss to Hibernian in Edinburgh on Wednesday evening as the Ibrox Boss has acknowledged.
If criticism of Warburton on social media seemed a trifle harsh, there is no doubt that serious defensive deficiencies were exposed at Easter Road – deficiencies that have been apparent for most of the season.
It should also be recognised of course that mental tiredness probably played a part, given that the draining semi-final at Hampden offered the Light Blues 24 hours less recovery time than opponents Hibernian.
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Nevertheless there were many who were of the opinion that more use should have been made of the Ibrox squad with such as Billy King, Nicky Law, Gedion Zelalem and Nicky Clark introduced on Wednesday.
Too often in the past – particularly under Walter Smith - Rangers have failed to round off a successful League campaign with a win on trophy presentation day, leading to a feeling of anti-climax amongst the Light Blue legions.
A sell-out Ibrox will be expecting a victorious afternoon against Alloa Athletic as Mark acknowledged.
“I want the players and the fans to enjoy the celebrations. It’s the crowning moment at the end of a long League campaign - and they have got their rewards.
“I hope very much we first of all deliver a performance - it would be a real dampener to not deliver a good performance and result. It’s a packed Ibrox on a magnificent pitch - so we want our boys to go out there and play and show the fans how good they can be.”
Alloa may now be relegated to League One for next season – but they have over the past two campaigns proved to be awkward opponents for Rangers and indeed in the last meeting between the two clubs, at Recreation Park in February, only a late Michael O’Halloran equaliser salvaged a 1-1 draw from a game the Ibrox men dominated.
Meanwhile the Rangers Manager paid tribute to the two players nominated in the Championship ‘Player of the Year’ awards.
“I’m delighted for the pair of them and I’m sure the rest of the squad will rightfully give them their congratulations. Mind you it could be any number of players given the level the squad has played to.
“If you look at Lee Wallace he has really been a magnificent captain. On the pitch he has been outstanding all season and his level of consistency has been first-class. The impact he has off the pitch has been first class too.
“Regarding Martyn Waghorn he has done exceptionally well. To score 28 goals in the period of time he did was outstanding, and he thoroughly deserves it. We are delighted for him and he was desperately disappointed with his injury, but his rehab has been first class.”
Waghorn scored twice as Rangers defeated the ‘Wasps’ 4-0 on their last visit to Ibrox in November – but the striker may be held over until Tuesday at Livingston as he focuses on his return from a two-month injury absence with the Cup final very much in mind.
It would be no surprise were Gedion Zelalem to play from the start – the on-loan Arsenal youngster has impressed when coming on as a substitute in the last two outings against Celtic and Hibernian.
Whatever the starting line-up a packed Ibrox will be expecting a convincing performance and result before the party starts on the final whistle.