Well, that’s that then. The title race is over. A 14-point gap over second-placed Hibs with nine games left makes it almost certain Rangers will regain their place in the top division of Scottish football next season. After four years away, the Light Blues will be looking to challenge immediately at the top of the table and hopefully take the title away from ‘Them’.
Mark Warburton’s side have never looked like failing to win the Championship this season and Tuesday night’s 2-0 home win over Raith Rovers was one of the most assured Rangers performances in a while. Harry Forrester will have done his chances of an extended contract no harm with a great performance and his second goal in as many games. Billy King also continues to impress and Warburton will hopefully be looking to see what it would take to make his move from Hearts a more permanent arrangement.
The defensive unit of Wes Foderingham, James Tavernier, Rob Kiernan, Danny Wilson and Lee Wallace have put in some very consistent performances too recently, and I don’t think there will be much change to the backline over the summer. Wilson, in particular, has been on the receiving end of some unfair criticism which I don’t quite understand. Over the last seven months or so, Wilson and Kiernan have built a solid partnership at the heart of the defence and developed a good understanding together. The two full-backs haven’t been scoring as many goals as earlier in the season although their new, slightly more conservative, positioning has made a massive difference to the way the team defends when the opposition try to counter. Instead of both players bombing forward in support of the attackers, one or the other will slot in just ahead of the centre-backs and provide a bit more cover for them. Both still have plenty opportunity to get forward, however it’s a little more organised and is having far greater rewards overall.
With Hibs making a Hibs of it in the league, there might be a bit more chance for some of the younger players to get some game time for the first team. With many of the more “senior” youths already out on loan, it may see the likes of Liam Burt get the chance to build on his cameo against Raith, or may allow for some of the other youngsters involved with the development squad make the step up to the senior team. It could also see players like Dean Shiels, Nicky Clark and even Cammy Bell get a few starts before the season comes to an end as they may find themselves on the lookout for a new club.
Hibs’ bottle crashing doesn’t mean the end of the competitive games yet though. Dundee head to Ibrox in the Scottish Cup this weekend and a trip to Hampden awaits for the Challenge Cup final. Success in the Scottish Cup could still see a return to European football next season for Rangers. Early qualifiers in the Europa League would likely provide a stiffer test than the usual pre-season fare or early games in the revamped League Cup, not to mention the possibility of a nice little pay-off from TV and gate receipts. The Challenge Cup final should be a fun day out for both sets of fans and hopefully this will be the last time I ever need to see Rangers involved in it.
Finally, as the first team season comes towards an end, the Rangers Ladies side’s season is just beginning. A 5-1 win over Hamilton in their opening League Cup game was the ideal start as they build to the Scottish Women’s Premier League opener against Hibs on March 13. Manager Kevin Murphy was delighted to see his new-look side gel so quickly with seven new faces joining the squad over the winter. For more information on Rangers Ladies and girls teams go to @RFC_Ladies or the club website.