Rangers’ return to the Scottish Premiership came one season later than initially expected of the club, as they rose through the lower divisions with relative ease. Mark Warburton’s men returned to the top flight this term after two seasons in the Championship and their comeback is most welcome to provide serious competition for rivals Celtic in the battle for the title.
Under Ally McCoist the club battled out of the bottom two tiers, claiming back-to-back titles, even going unbeaten through the 2013-14 season. Turmoil off the pitch in the following campaign prevented them from making it three promotions on the spin, as the Gers went through three managers and three chairmen over the course of the term. Stuart McCall almost guided them over the line, but their defeat to Motherwell halted their return to the big time.
Rangers opted not to hand a new contract to McCall, appointing Warburton in his place and the club were rewarded for their decision as they eased to the Championship title leading from the start of the campaign to the end. The Gers have made a steady start to their return to the Premiership, although they are a long way behind their great rivals this season and perhaps for at least another year to come before they can challenge them at the top once again.
Warburton’s men are currently backed in the latest Scottish football betting odds at 40/1 to overhaul Brendan Rodgers’ side and win their first crown since 2011. However, the current margin between the two teams in points and in quality – as judged in the Bhoys’ 5-1 demolition of the Gers – means that is extremely unlikely to be on the cards this term.
Joey Barton was supposed to offer experience and leadership in the middle of the park following his successful spell at Burnley, helping the Clarets back in the Premier League. However, his brief stay at Ibrox was an unmitigated disaster as he got into a fight with team-mate Andy Halliday, which yielded a three-week suspension, while the Scottish Football Association also accused him of breaking rules relating to gambling on football matches.
Barton was released by the Gers, leaving somewhat of a void, although the club still have enough quality to remain in the mix for second place. Halliday has been a solid contributor this term with three strikes already to his name, while the signing of Joe Garner from Preston has proven to be an astute one as he has also notched three strikes. Kenny Miller has also remained a crucial part of their early success, with three goals, although at the age of 36 he is far from a long-term solution.
Warburton has made additions with an eye to the future, including the son of Dean Windass, Josh, who completed a move from Accrington Stanley over the summer along with Matt Crooks. Jordan Rossiter was signed for £250,000 from Liverpool and was touted at one stage during his youth career at Anfield to be a possible successor to Steven Gerrard.
If he lives up to at least half of his potential Warburton will have a decent core of young players to work with, while there is a steady stream of solid players in their mid-20s that will be around for a while yet, including James Tavernier, Rob Kiernan, Martyn Waghorn and Wes Foderingham. The Rangers boss has a challenge in attempting to break Celtic’s stranglehold of the Premiership, but if the club keep moving in the right direction and their faith in youth pays off it could well be a successful feat.