The word for Rangers’ performances right now is ‘fiddly’. When Robbie Neilson’s impressive Hearts decimated Warburton’s men at Tynecastle in November, many reached for the panic button and called the End as Nigh. I would very much include myself in that, and indeed, most people I know shared this view.
Over the subsequent two matches Rangers’ XI and their manager answered their critics spectacularly – firstly a superb and well-battled win over high-flying Aberdeen, then a rather easy and comfortable win over ailing Ian Cathro and his (broken) Hearts.
This gave everyone a bit of leeway – we could sense Warburton was onto something, with a change of system, in form Kenny Miller, Barrie McKay and Joe Garner causing all sorts of issues, and a defence which was starting to look something akin to reliable.
Unfortunately, once again form has tailed off. Hamilton, let us be honest, was not an impressive 90 minutes. It was horrendous until Waghorn’s outstanding headed goal right on half time, and while it became a glorious period of sumptuous football thereafter till late on, the moment Imrie pulled one back on 77 minutes Rangers struggled badly. So in 90 minutes 45 + roughly 15 equals a very bad 60 minutes of 90. It is nitpicking, yes, and the final score is what matters, but for a manager who has done nothing but preach great football since he signed up last year, it is not impressive.
Alas, it not only continued but deteriorated further when Inverness came to Govan. Richie Foran probably cannot believe his side did not take all three points, and it would be little exaggeration to describe the display (against the now bottom team) as an abomination. ICT were the vastly better team over the piece, and only miracle work from Wes Foderingham in goal (how Clint Hill won MOTM is beyond me given how easily he was beaten inside 15 minutes only for Doumbouya to scuff his lines) stopped Foran taking an easy win back north.
For Rangers fans to boo their leading team off at half time shows how poor this was.
Hence Rangers are in a slight quandary right now; the cold hard truth is that while it is four wins in a row, it remains only three genuinely impressive displays all season (Killie, Aberdeen and Hearts all at home) and form of the past two matches is worryingly hinting at a reversing trend. Garner was flat at the weekend, McKay struggled to have any impact, and the backline was repeatedly bypassed with depressing ease.
What worked for a couple of matches (brilliantly, and to deserved praise by all) is now not, despite the wins – and this is where Warbs earns his corn. He takes his slightly off-boil squad to a McDiarmid Park, where St Johnstone lie in wait on Wednesday – a St Johnstone side managed by the canny Tommy Wright who owned Warburton last September year in the league cup and who was unfortunate not to get all three points earlier this season at Ibrox.
They are similarly unbeaten this month, sitting solidly in fifth place, having had a decent three clean sheets in four fixtures, including at Killie and Pittodrie. They also destroyed Inverness to the tune of 3-0.
In short, this is a very tough match for Rangers, with a certain green and white shower waiting in the wings at Ibrox once this one is done.
The next two are colossal tests for out-of-sorts Rangers in very different ways. One is a trip to a historically troubling foe in recent times, one whose manager has an unbeaten record against his impending opponent, and who seems to have his number, while the other is, sadly, a visit from Scotland’s current best team who, domestically, seem completely untouchable with only two points dropped all season.
With Rangers a little unsure of themselves right now, Warburton has a serious battle on his hands to accrue a good points haul over the next two matches. We will soon see if he has the mettle to do it.