Time to cut Warburton some slack?

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In light of another spectacularly poor performance/result at Tynecastle and a disappointing draw at home to Ross County, I think it’s important to try and offer some historical context as we approach the fifth anniversary of a certain Craig Whyte doing the unthinkable. I will never forget fellow bluenoses texting me the breaking news that awful day while I watched my kids enjoy themselves in the Rouken Glen playpark. As such, the odd bad result (or even run of poor form) should be something we can cope with a bit better.

Why is historical context important? Well, believe it or not, the world’s most successful football club hasn’t always been number one in Scotland. Many bears of a certain vintage will remember the days of our rivals enjoying success in Europe while winning nine in a row. I wasn’t born until 1969 so as far as I’m concerned most of it didn’t happen! However, my days at secondary school coincided with a Rangers team which floundered in the league whilst only enjoying occasional cup success.

After the heartbreak of finishing runners up off the back of a 4-2 loss at Parkhead in May '79, we had a dismal season in '79-80. Many amongst the younger support will be blissfully unaware that we garnered a mighty 37 points from 36 games that season, finishing 5th in a 10 team league. Much has rightly been made of poor away performances over the last 12 months or so but we lost 12 (yes, twelve) away games that season. As a consequence of such a poor season, we didn’t qualify for Europe so settled instead for the glamour of the Anglo-Scottish Cup – a cross border tournament for also-rans. With a team containing Peter McCloy, the late, greats Sandy Jardine & Bomber Jackson, Tam Forsyth, Jim Bett, Bobby Russell and Derek Johnstone we lost 4-1 on aggregate to the mighty Chesterfield. Yes, Chesterfield – let that sink in. We lost 3-0 away from home in the 2nd leg while fielding international players and guys who have rightly earned their place in Rangers folklore.

We then finished third in season '80-81, 14 points behind the league winners and finished in the same place the following season, albeit ‘only’ 12 points behind the eventual champions. Season '82-83 was also a massive disappointment as we finished 4th with 38 points from 36 league games but this time 18 points behind the champions Dundee Utd. We finished a distant 4th in seasons '83-84 AND '84-85, and this miserable run of form culminated in finishing 5th in season 85-86 with only 35 points from 36 games. Whilst it must be noted there was only two points for a win back in the 'good old days', we still fielded great players like some of those mentioned above. In addition, we had talents like the peerless Davie Cooper and a certain Ally McCoist – undoubtedly two legends of our fine club. Ian Durrant and Derek Ferguson were also breaking through so we had plenty of talented footballers at the club. Sadly, and no harm to them, they were joined with the likes of Davie Mitchell, Sandy Clark, Craig Paterson and Nicky Walker.

If you’re still awake, you’ll probably be wondering why I’m going over all of this. Well, I think we need to realise that not everything was always rosy in the Rangers garden prior to the arrival of a certain Graeme Souness. We’ve had some great, awful and indifferent footballing experiences and with this in mind, I think it’s time we cut Mark Warburton some slack. If legends like John Greig and Jock Wallace can struggle, then surely anyone can? And it's not as if Ally McCoist or Stuart McCall fared much better?

Before Warburton and Davie Weir arrived in the summer of 2015, we had just lost 6-1 to Motherwell on aggregate in the Premiership play off. In the play-off tie we fielded luminaries such as Cammy Bell, Ricky Foster, Marius Zaliukas, Nicky Law and the on-loan Shane Ferguson. To put a tin lid on this disaster Bilel Mohnsi came on as a sub for the aforementioned Zaliukas who had clearly had enough. During our first season in the championship we had some horrendous results; most notably home losses to both Hearts and Hibs (twice) and terrible away losses to Hearts, Hibs and Queen of the South (twice). After beating Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup, we quietly hoped we could go on a run but a home defeat to Raith Rovers quickly put that notion to bed. And let us not forget the horror show that was Alloa Athletic coming from two goals down to knock us out of the Challenge Cup. Now that we’re on the last leg of ‘the journey’ (only complete when we win 55), it’s so easy to forget other bad results and some downright awful footballers. Seb Faure, Kevin Kyle and the chancer called Ian Black to name but a few.

The misery of season '14-15 ensured we spent a second season in the Championship under Warburton and Weir but this time it would be different. The new management team - though relatively inexperienced in the dugout - gave us a footballing style not seen since the big-spending days of Dick Advocaat and oh how we lapped it up. Whilst the likes of Law, Bell, Nicky Clark and Dean Shiels still had contracts to be honoured, Warbs also managed to wheel and deal and brought Wes Foderingham, James Tavernier, Rob Kiernan and Martyn Waghorn to the club. It would appear that only Fod has coped with the step up this season with the others being a huge disappointment. Hey, that’s what you get with a limited budget!

It's also often forgotten that the midfield pairing of Andy Halliday and Jason Holt only arrived as trialists and impressed enough to earn contracts. The reputation Warburton enjoys with academy coaches down south ensured the acquisitions of Nathan Oduwa and Dominic Ball from Spurs and Gideon Zelalem from Arsenal. This reputation has continued with Bournemouth and Arsenal loaning us more exciting young talents in Emerson Hyndman and Jon Toral respectively. I can pretty much guarantee these cash rich clubs would not trust us with their ‘assets’ under previous management teams.

Even so, there is no doubt every signing is still a risk and there's not a manager in world football with a 100% success rate. The Rangers jersey is a heavy one and many good players can’t cope with the demands placed upon them. Are we too harsh and quick to judge? Most definitely but this has always been the case, rightly or wrongly. Perhaps we spent too much on Michael O’Halloran and Joe Garner but hindsight is a wonderful thing and we all have a Masters degree in this particular subject. Quite simply talent isn't often enough - players have to be mentally strong and that's what seems to be lacking of late.

When we consider the signings that were made in summer '16, if Rangers debate on Twitter is a fair gauge of opinion, each and every signing was met with positivity with the possible exception of Philippe Senderos (though he largely played well v Ross County). Joey Barton was a risk worth taking (English Championship Player of The Year '15-16) but his signing proved to be a disaster. Matt Crooks, Jordan Rossiter, and Josh Windass were deemed as positive additions but sadly injury has curtailed their involvement, with Crooks gaining fitness but being unable to break into the team. Windass certainly looks like a talented footballer but he’s been hampered by lack of game time and a consistent run in the side. Niko Krancjar was starting to find fitness and form, and his injury couldn’t have happened at a worse stage of his distinguished career. Don’t forget, our need for a solid defensive midfielder was met with the signings of Barton and Rossiter. Many of us thought Warburton would play both of these players in tougher away games but this option was denied him.

We also have to appreciate the level of player we can afford. When Souness arrived he transformed Scottish football and attracted England internationals. Why? Not necessarily because of the Rangers name but because English club teams were banned from European competition. Chris Woods, Trevor Francis, Terry Butcher, Gary Stevens, Trevor Steven et al were top players. In recent memory I scoffed at Bolton Wanderers (an established Premier League team at the time) trying to compete with us for Dado Prso. Now? We’re raiding Accrington Stanley and Liverpool reserves for their best talents.

Where do we go from here? In my opinion we must be patient and give the management team this season and next, regardless of where we finish in May. Of course, we'd all like second place and a Scottish Cup win but neither is guaranteed. Calling for his sacking demeans a fine man working very hard to restore our wonderful club to its former glories. Some of the abuse he and the players receive is an embarrassment and will do nothing to help recruit better players. Is second or even third ever good enough? No, never. But given where we’ve been the last five or six years, and given the well documented off-field travails, we need to hold our nerve like never before.

In closing, it's vital we get behind Mark Warburton and his staff, support the players and quit talk of finding a new manager. Quite frankly, the alternatives are either frightening or outwith our budget. As such, is further upheaval and another lengthy transition period worth it? Or should we show some loyalty and stand behind the team during a time where they need us more than ever before? For me the answer is obvious...

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