Mark Warburton is a Spurs fan from London, so when arriving at Rangers as manager, a friend told him the club would soon be “in his blood” he remained skeptical.  

It didn’t take long for him to realise the error of his ways.  

He enthused: “Within six weeks of being in Glasgow you can feel it.  

“Within six months it’s in your blood and it’s the first result you look for.”  

The former city trader is now manager of West London club QPR but he still talks about his Ibrox tenure with obvious affection, despite an ultimately acrimonious departure.  

While his 21 month spell throws up so many discussion points I could sit with him for hours picking over the details, today we are focusing on what is without doubt his finest moment - the 2016 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat of Celtic.  

It was a momentous day when a Championship team overcame their greatest rivals, unarguably the most unlikely Old Firm victory in history and one that will never be surpassed given the circumstances of the time.  

On the final chapter of the, at times fraught, journey back to the top flight, Warburton had cast aside the baggage from the difficult three years that preceded him by building an exciting and dynamic young team.  

Rangers Review: Warburton before the game against Celtic.Warburton before the game against Celtic.

A possession-based game with swashbuckling full-backs is all the rage now, but it was a relatively new experience in 2015/16 and the fans lapped up the return of a dominant Ibrox side, even if it was just the second tier.  

They cut through the rough and tumble of the Championship without compromising performance despite facing a solid Hibs side that contained John McGinn and Jason Cummings amongst others.  

And yet, when the draw was made, few, if anyone gave them a prayer against their old rivals. 

Warburton gives the strong impression he’s a level-headed character but one thing that stands out when you spend time in his company is an emphasis on respect. 

It’s clearly a trait he values highly, and it’s abundantly clear he doesn’t feel Rangers got much of it in the build-up to the match. 

He grimaced: “If you remember some of the reports before the game: ‘this could be ten’ said a former Celtic player. ‘This could be double figures’ said another. 

“There were a number of derogatory comments which we just discreetly stuck around the changing room. That was the mentality of many people.” 

But Warburton is under no illusions of the scale of challenge his side faced that fateful day. 

Celtic were champions and had dominated Scottish football since the Ibrox side plummeted to the bottom division four years earlier. 

He openly admits nine times out of 10 the Parkhead club would have prevailed against their old rivals in such circumstances, but the Englishman isn’t one to dwell too long on an opponent’s strengths. 

He said: “You have to respect every opponent and you have to prepare well for them but there’s a danger that can be overplayed. The key for my team was to make sure the balance was right.  

“Yes, we knew about Tierney bombing forward, we knew about Griffiths, Sviatchenko and Roberts. We knew all about the various players. What we had to do was impose ourselves on the game, and that was more of a mindset.  

“Young players like Dom Ball, Gedion Zelalem, Barrie McKay, Jason Holt and Andy Halliday – guys coming in. People like Rob Kiernan and Danny Wilson with no experience of the Old Firm. All of these young players it was a new experience. 

“It was only Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace, who were outstanding the pair of them. 

“What was really pleasing was that we took our game to Celtic. I truly believe that we deserved to win the game when you look at every aspect of the fixture.” 

While Rangers fans suspected their team was a different proposition to the side that had been easily dispatched 2-0 by their rivals in the Scottish League Cup semi-final the season before, there was trepidation about what such an arduous test might expose. 

It was startling then to see Rangers knock the ball around with exacting abandon during the opening exchanges, leaving Celtic chasing shadows in the blistering afternoon sun.  

And the Light Blues made their superiority count when Kenny Miller pounced on a loose ball to slot home the opener after 16 minutes. 

“We weren’t surprised,” said Warburton proudly. “From the first minute of the game, we looked in control of the football. 

“We wanted to put Lee very high on their left-hand side and have more of a defensive presence with Dean Shiels on the right to counteract Tierney. 

“We were pleased with that. Celtic were a quality team but I think we went toe-to-toe.” 

While Rangers were the better team and controlled the match for long spells, Celtic still had their chances. Not least Patrick Roberts. 

The young loanee from Manchester City had sparkled in Scotland but his incredible miss is the stuff of any attacker’s nightmares. 

The moment is hard to forget after you’ve seen it, and even now has the capacity to leave you slightly slack jawed as you ponder the only appropriate question – how the hell did he miss? 

Leigh Griffiths low shot had spun off the inside of Wes Foderingham’s near post and back into the six-yard box with the goal gaping. Roberts was in the perfect position with nobody near him as he connected with the ball.  The whole stadium expected the net to ripple but inexplicably it ended up wide of the post. 

Warburton smiles: “I was right behind it. I actually turned (as if it was a goal). It literally was an open goal and maybe it was too easy. 

“When people talk about the randomness of football those are the moments you think had they scored then it would have taken the wind out of our sails. But he missed it.” 

Warburton famously spent most of his career working in the high-flying world of London finance before bravely packing it all in to pursue his football passion. 

So just how does the pressure of an Old Firm semi-final compare to a billion dollar trade?  

“I’ve never felt the nerves that I felt that day, especially towards the end of that game. 

“There’s picture of me looking every part of 53 because I knew what it meant to the city. 

“I had so many friends by then and I knew the club, where it had been and what it meant to them. I knew that if we could win this game of football what a boost it would give. So that was where the nerves came from.  

“I’m pretty calm on the touchline usually, but that was the one game... 

“The city is a different kind of pressure. We had some manic and hair-raising days but that game was extraordinary for so many reasons.” 

And while the pressure was intense, so indeed was the pleasure. 

There can have been few feelings quite as joyous as watching Barrie McKay dance past Scott Brown to score his worldie and put Rangers into the driving seat after the game headed into extra time. 

Rangers Review: Barrie McKay celebrates his wonder strike.Barrie McKay celebrates his wonder strike.

“I said about games having everything, but that for me summed it up.  

“There was a little consternation about whether or not there was a throw in front of Ronny Deila. There was a little loss of concentration and Barrie showed great balance, cut back onto his right side. 

“I don’t know the exact distance, but you won’t see a sweeter strike. 

“I was right behind it and the arrow went straight into the top corner. A great goal to win any game of football. He’s a talented, talented boy. 

“At that point you think you’ve done enough because you see Celtic deflating and you see Ronny’s reaction but all credit to them for coming back.” 

A late Tom Rogic equaliser meant penalties but given Rangers’ performance, they couldn’t be perceived as losers no matter what happened. 

They had been the better team for most of the game, and while Celtic had created several chances, they did so against the flow of the game, with Rangers winning the midfield battle. 

But any notion that the pressure was somehow off heading into the penalties was dismissed by the manager. 

He said: “The boys had met the challenge and shown how good they could be so that box had been ticked. But still, we are in a results industry. 

“It would still read that Celtic had won the game and gone on to win the cup had we not completed the job.” 

With the penalties evenly poised at 3-3 after two players on each side missed, Gedion Zelalem stepped up. 

The American kid, just 19 at the time, was a confident lad but being thrown into such an important game was a huge test, let along being asked to take such a crucial spot-kick. 

Warburton recalled: “I remember being on the sideline and so many things go through your head. 

“I can honestly remember thinking: ‘I’m getting a young loanee to take a penalty in front of the Celtic fans. What am I doing to him?’ 

“You think that if he misses it... 

“At 18 years of age, I was thinking ‘What are Arsenal going to think?’ 

“Obviously it’s the opposite, it’s a great learning curve, what a fantastic learning experience for any young player. 

“He slotted it away. His technique was outstanding then he has the balls to go to the fans and shush them. 

“I spoke to him after the game and he really enjoyed that.” 

It was Mikael Lustig up next and although the Swede hit the back of the net, the almighty din created by the Ibrox fans as he stepped up gave Warburton a feeling something magical could be in the air. 

He smiled: “If you listen to the recording of the game, the Rangers fans sing really loudly before the last two penalties. I think it was Lustig (on the sixth). He scores but they are singing so loudly as he walks up to it. And I thought that was magnificent.  

“Then they sang so loud when Rogic was going up. I’m looking at the next taker but the noise... 

“Of course, where I'm standing, I was privvy to it raining down and that’s what I remember most. 

“It was that point you think ooft (we have a chance) and he blazed it over the bar. 

“He was a very talented player but somebody had to miss and what a reaction. 

“You saw what it meant to the players. 

“I’ve never been so happy after a game of football. I knew what it meant to big Jim Stewart, an outstanding servant to the club. I knew what it meant to Davie Weir, you can’t get a better professional than him. Dave Lavery, who is still at the club now, the sports therapist, what a gentleman. 

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“So top, top people at the club who had been there through thick and thin and I knew what it meant to them and that was reflected in my stupid grinning on the touchline at the end.”  

It has been said during the intervening five years since the game that it represents the biggest Old Firm win in history given the budget disparity and the leagues both were operating in. 

While Warburton isn’t one to indulge in such hyperbole he pinpoints the stark difference in wages in the midfield that day as testament to what his men stood so tall against. 

He said: “I talk about the budgets of the two clubs and people say it’s sour grapes. It’s not. 

“Rangers had to give any manager or coach the financial backing. 

“That day, I know for a fact that our three midfielders were on less than half of one of their midfield opponents. 

“I look all over the pitch and they were international players paid multiples of the Rangers players. 

“That’s why they deserve so much credit because in any industry you aren’t going to survive against a competitor with a bigger budget. 

“But on that day the players answered all those questions and delivered that performance so for a Championship team, albeit Rangers in a unique situation, to play in that manner and win the game of football was a very special day that won’t be repeated.” 

You can hear the full story of the incredible match, including contributions from Warburton, David Weir, Dean Shiels, Cammy Bell, David Edgar and Barrie McKay on The Rangers Review Podcast here.