27 Dec No time to be thinking of Celtic
Mark Warburton has warned his Rangers players not to risk slipping up at St Johnstone by focusing too much on their Hogmanay duel with Celtic.
Gers will welcome their bitter rivals to Ibrox for the first time in four and a half years on Saturday.
But before that, they must take on Tommy Wright’s Perth side at McDiarmid on Wednesday night.
Warburton understands both his players and the Light Blues faithful will be desperate to face Brendan Rodgers’ rampant Ladbrokes Premiership leaders on home turf, especially after suffering two painful defeats to the Hoops already this term.
However, he is also fully aware of the threat posed by Saints, who his side have yet to defeat in his two previous clashes as Gers boss, and does not want to see a third chance wasted.
Asked if it would be human nature for his men to have one eye on the showdown with Celtic, the Englishman said: “We can’t do that.
“You could win the Old Firm game but lose to St Johnstone. I understand (the excitement levels that surround the Celtic match) and I’m not understating that in any shape or form.
“But it’s about the three points and the next game against St Johnstone – it has to be that way.
“So we can’t look ahead. As soon as Wednesday is out of the way, then we will look ahead to the weekend.”
However, frontman Martyn Waghorn reckons the lure of landing a starting slot against the Hoops could be all the incentive his team-mates need to shoot down Saints.
“Subconsciously, I think everyone is going to be thinking that they are playing for their place in the Old Firm game,” he said.
“It’s a huge game and everybody wants to be involved in it. You’re only going to do that, though, by working hard on the training pitch and the same if you get the call to play on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a huge squad with a great amount of talent and there will always be guys disappointed not to be involved.
“It’s up to people to work hard and stake their claim. We’ve got another big game on Wednesday coming up with three points on offer so we will see where that leads to.”
The former Sunderland, Leicester and Wigan striker is keen to finally make his mark against the Parkhead side.
He missed last season’s historic William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final win through injury but made his return from another knock as a second-half substitute in this season’s opening derby contest.
But that ended up being a nightmare as Warburton’s team were given a 5-1 pasting at Celtic Park.
Waghorn was again introduced off the bench in October’s Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden but Gers suffered more heartache as Moussa Dembele snatched a last-minute winner for Rodgers’ men.
“It would nice to show what I can do against Celtic,” said the 25-year-old. “The first game obviously wasn’t great by our standards.
“For me, it was my first game back after injury and it was a disappointing result.
“The semi-final was bitterly disappointing as well. But we’ve taken positives from that game. We played a lot better and showed what we can do.
“We’re on the good run at the minute and if we can pick up another good win at St Johnstone then we will be full of confidence going into the game on the 31st.
“It will be a packed-out Ibrox and I’m sure it will be some occasion.”
However, Gers will need to improve from Saturday’s narrow 1-0 win over Inverness if they are to overcome Saints, never mind topple a Celtic side undefeated in 18 league games this term.
The Light Blues’ fourth straight win was confirmed when Waghorn’s 13th-minute cross was turned into the Highlanders’ net by Caley Thistle defender Brad McKay.
But the striker admitted: “We were sloppy, a bit too slow, a bit too mundane.
“But we showed signs that we are a true winning team by digging in and grinding out a performance.”