Rangers get set for Premiership after ousting Celtic in Cup

For Rangers fans, victory over their Old Firm rivals would have felt like a cathartic moment.

The emotions of four years could be released in the aftermath, but the club can only treat it as another staging post in their return to the top flight.

The performance in the Scottish Cup semi-final win over Celtic was at times accomplished and slick. It took a penalty shootout to separate the teams in the end, but with Rangers having played to their potential and Ronny Deila's side falling short of their own, the result was more than justified.

Rangers manager Mark Warburton stressed that work must continue to improve the squad, while chairman Dave King indicated plans remain in place to strengthen the squad.

So, what does the immediate future hold as Rangers prepare for next season's Scottish Premiership campaign?

Squad building

Rangers' team that started against Celtic on Sunday
Rangers' squad has been stretched going into the final few weeks of the season

Rangers only named five substitutes at Hampden, including 17-year-old midfielder Liam Burt. Injuries to Martyn Waghorn and Harry Forrester left the squad short up front, along with Michael O'Halloran and Billy King being ineligible.

The team needs strengthening - and the squad also needs more depth. Rangers have been relatively fortunate with injuries this season, but if the team wins the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian then Europa League commitments would place further strain on the squad.

Yet Warburton wanted a small, tight group to ensure all the players would be regularly involved and to maintain their hunger and desire.

A smaller squad also provides a route to the first team for players from the youth set-up, but Rangers were light on options on Sunday with substitutes Nicky Law, Nicky Clark and Gedion Zelalem only being bit-part figures this term.

The starting line-up also needs additions in key positions. For all that Wes Foderingham is comfortable on the ball and so contributes significantly to Rangers' approach of building from the back, doubts remain about the goalkeeper.

Rob Kiernan and Danny Wilson played well on Sunday, but Rangers have been fragile at the back at times. That might be improved by the presence of an experienced, assertive and physically imposing holding midfielder, a position Warburton has long sought to fill.

The team needs more height and prowess in the air. Rangers tend to take short corners but still need to be able to defend their own area at set pieces. A centre-forward is also required, along with more options for the wide areas to provide competition.

None of that will be news to Warburton, who has been planning for next season, and the new recruits will need to fit into his game plan, so be technically adroit and tactically flexible.

Warburton has generally preferred to sign players he knows, either from working with them at Watford or Brentford or coming up against them in the Championship, League One or academy level.

That can be restrictive, but the examples of Andy Halliday and Jason Holt ought to encourage a wider perspective. Both impressed in training before they were offered deals and have emerged as key players for the Ibrox side.

They were prominent, influential and accomplished on Sunday, setting the tempo and tone of the team's display. That reflects their performances this season.

Tactics

Jason Holt and Andy Halliday
Jason Holt and Andy Halliday have been mainstays for Rangers this season

Rangers' possession game was vital to their semi-final win. It established their confidence and assurance in the first half and took the sting out of Celtic's resurgence after the break.

When Rangers were under pressure, the instinctive reliance on passing and movement restored some composure to their play. The team is also more comfortable in possession because the defence can be left exposed by the attacking full-backs and the way Holt and Halliday can play high up the pitch.

Yet for all that time on the ball, Rangers created fewer clear-cut chances against Celtic. There is a balance between routine and meaningful possession, which Warburton's team has tended to fall on the right side of more often than not, but stepping up a level, or two if they reach Europe, will mean that the approach needs to be executed by better players.

Warburton has established foundations for the club to build on. The 4-3-3 shape and possession-based approach is used throughout the youth set-up and the philosophy will run deep at the training ground.

It has delivered success this season and can do so again in the next campaign. Warburton managed the same feat when he took Brentford from League One to the Championship play-off places.

Maintaining feel-good factor

Rangers manager Mark Warburton
Former Brentford boss Warburton joined Rangers last summer

Rangers fans have rediscovered the joy of following their team after a spell in the doldrums and amidst off-field turmoil. Ensuring that feel-good factor continues is important for the board as much as the team.

Season tickets need to be sold in large enough numbers to reduce the need for external investment from directors and shareholders as part of the rebuilding process, although that funding will be available when required.

Keeping Warburton at Ibrox will also be critical to that sense of optimism - although the club must always have a succession plan in place and a clear strategy for maintaining the progress the Englishman has made.

He will be intrigued by a potential experience of European football and has stressed his commitment to the project at Ibrox. Suitors, though, will only have been impressed by the work carried out this season and some will inevitably come calling.

The shrewdest approach for the club is to accept that managers come and go, develop a long-standing strategy that maintains continuity and guides the search for successors, and establish a recruitment department and policy that works with - but is independent to - whoever is in charge of the first team.

That can all happen in time. For now, Rangers are on the right course, but with much work still to do to achieve the club's goals.

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