While Mark Warburton has, on the surface, tried to peddle the line that he and his team have been 100% focused on the league and have paid no heed to any upcoming cup matches, the last two performances have tentatively suggested the players at least may have had one eye on the visit of St Johnstone on Tuesday.
In a recent entry I speculated that teams had possibly figured Warburton’s tactics out, hence the diminished displays in the past two weeks from the Ibrox men, but a comment to the article in question made a very valid point:
Rather than these sides figuring Warburton out, they simply stuck 10 men behind the ball and tried to defend for 90 minutes. It is a fair conclusion; admittedly its flaw is that Dumbarton actually looked more likely to score until Martyn Waghorn opened the scoring for the visitors on Saturday, but nevertheless it is tough to break down stubborn opposition who ‘park the bus’.
Whatever assumption is correct (maybe a combination of both) there can be little doubt that the players surely have been a little distracted over the past two matches. St Johnstone on Tuesday is arguably the biggest test yet, and these players want to prove themselves up against better opposition.
Energetic midfielder Andy Halliday is understandably a little fed up of matches having ‘big test’ attributed to them, however, with the moniker glued to many an encounter this season.
That said, Mark Warburton’s new-look and well-oiled Rangers will find themselves up against Premiership opposition for the first time, and despite claiming it is just another game (as he should), privately Warburton will be demanding his side spread their feathers with gusto to prove they have what it takes to play at the big boys’ table.
With that in mind, Warburton clearly made some unenforced changes, with Dominic Ball coming in for Rob Kiernan and Kenny Miller replacing on-loan Nathan Oduwa. The switch of Nicky Law for Jason Holt was enforced, the latter picking up a small knee-tweak in training. Hopefully he will be available come Tuesday.
Consequently Warburton evidently wants to have his strongest eleven at his disposal, and going by the Raith demolition that would presumably be Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace, Halliday, Zelalem, Holt, McKay, Waghorn and Oduwa.
St Johnstone are having a pretty average season in the top flight – two wins, two draws and four defeats is far from a promising return, so Rangers will have an excellent barometer to judge themselves on. A solid midtable SPL team comes to Ibrox on Tuesday and should Rangers prevail, as Halliday put it so appositely:
It will shut a few people up.