Glasgow (AFP) – Scottish giants Rangers’ return to the top tier is proving a rude awakening to those fans who thought they would be automatically challenging bitter rivals Celtic for the Premiership title.
They host bottom side Partick Thistle on Saturday badly in need of a win to offset recent troubles on and off the pitch that threaten to derail their season.
A 5-1 thrashing by Celtic was bad enough but the suspension by the club of hotheaded English midfielder Joey Barton, the arrest of veteran striker Kenny Miller outside a restaurant for his alleged involvement in a brawl and last weekend’s defeat by Aberdeen has deepened the gloom at Ibrox.
Without a Premiership win in their last four matches they lie seven points adrift of leaders Celtic — who restored their Champions League pride this week following the 7-0 hammering by Barcelona with a thrilling 3-3 draw with Manchester City — and having played a game more.
However, despite being closer to the relegation zone than the title race, Rangers’ combative English manager Mark Warburton believes the club is performing as he had predicted before the campaign got underway and blamed the media for exaggerating their aims.
“What I said at the start of the season, and I was very, very clear, was that we’d be highly competitive,” said Warburton, who will sit in the stands as he serves a one match ban for an outburst at John Beaton, the referee in the 2-1 defeat by Aberdeen last Sunday.
“You guys (the media) said about challenging Celtic and challenging Aberdeen. I said we’d be highly competitive and that won’t change.
“I think you saw on Sunday we were highly competitive — but we have to get the rewards for it.”
Warburton, who got the Rangers job on the back of having impressed in his spell as manager of unfashionable English side Brentford, says things could change in a couple of games.
“You can say you are four points from the bottom or three points from second,” he said.
“At this stage of the season, in any league, you win two games and the whole picture changes. The same if you lose two.”
While Warburton battles to get Rangers back on the winning trail, his Celtic counterpart Brendan Rodgers travels with an extra spring in his step with his side to take on Dundee, who are fourth from bottom with just one win from their seven games this term.
Rodgers, though, will hope his players don’t allow one good result in the Champions League to distract them from maintaining their unbeaten record in the Premiership.
Second-placed Aberdeen, who are four points adrift having played a game more, are also on their travels away at another struggling side Kilmarnock.
Dundee v Celtic, Hamilton v Inverness, Kilmarnock v Aberdeen, Motherwell v Hearts, Rangers v Partick, Ross County v St Johnstone.
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