Tom English: Rangers recruitment, Dundee Utd struggles

Rangers manager Mark Warburton has been busy in the January transfer window
Rangers manager Mark Warburton has been busy in the January transfer window

When Dave King proclaimed that he and his board would do "whatever it takes" to turn Rangers into challengers for the Scottish Premiership it might have been expected that the Ibrox club would do their shopping for players in more salubrious establishments than the Keepmoat Stadium and the Crown Ground.

The Keepmoat is home of Doncaster Rovers, from where Rangers have signed Harry Forrester. The Crown Ground belongs to Accrington Stanley, the club who will, in the summer, lose Josh Windass and Matt Crooks to Mark Warburton.

There shouldn't be any sniffing from outside Ibrox at these deals, though. Not as long as there are others in their slipstream.

These guys might develop into first-team players or they might be squad men or they might be nothing at all. They might flourish under the pressure of life at Ibrox or they might wilt.

What we know for sure is that they are inexpensive punts, educated gambles. Forrester is older at 25, but Windass only turned 22 today and Crooks will be 22 later in the month. It has become brutally difficult to find value in England these days.

Warburton thinks he's on to something. They might not come from glamour houses, and they haven't done a lot, but Forrester, Windass and Crooks are worth a shot given the smallness of the stakes involved and the Rangers manager's good track record in improving footballers.

Harry Forrester has signed a six-month deal at Ibrox after arriving from Doncaster Rovers
Harry Forrester has signed a six-month deal at Ibrox after arriving from Doncaster Rovers

It can not all be about youth, though. If it is indeed the Premiership for them next season then you're reminded of King's view that they must light some kind of fire under Celtic's rear-end right from the get-go. They would not have to take the champions all that close to the wire, but they would want to be competitive for second.

Losing to Celtic would be palatable as long as they were not bested by Aberdeen, Hearts, St Johnstone, Ross County and Inverness into the bargain. It's not in the DNA of Rangers fans to stoically accept such a state of affairs

That is why the club's pursuit of Brentford's admirable defensive midfielder, Toumani Diagouraga, is an interesting test of the Rangers board. Diagouraga is not a talent that would light up Ibrox with his skill, but he's a solid citizen, as Warburton knows better than anybody having managed him at Griffin Park.

He's big and physical and experienced. Maybe he's just what a young Rangers side needs. He's 28-years-old and a regular in a Brentford team that are currently just five points away from the play-offs in the Championship.

Rangers have had a bid rejected for Brentford midfielder Toumani Diagouraga
Rangers have had a bid rejected for Brentford midfielder Toumani Diagouraga

Last season the Brentford supporters' made him their player of the year as the club made the play-offs for the Premiership, albeit getting well beaten by Middlesbrough.

Rangers' initial bid for him was reported as £100,000. Certainly that's the figure that Brentford fans groups picked up on because they laughed at it, while not fully believing that anybody would have the front to go in with a such low bid, even as a feeler.

Half a million seems to be closer to the number required. That kind of sum is not exactly a huge examination of King's mettle given all that he has said in the recent past, but it's the ballpark fee he's going to have to start shelling out if Rangers are to stand a chance of doing what he says he wants them to do once they are in the Premiership.

Project players are important, and could prove hugely beneficial, but if Rangers are promoted then they're going to need ready-made battlers - and they cost a few quid.

Dundee United on the brink

A while back, while Jackie McNamara was going around the city with his hair on fire, any notion that Dundee United could gather themselves and climb from the bottom of the Premiership to safe ground might have seemed like the footballing equivalent of scaling Kilimanjaro, the behemoth of Tanzania.

Then Mixu Paatelainen came in big and strong and some kind of progress seemed possible, but nothing happened. One loss followed another and Kilimanjaro became Aconcagua, the world's second largest mountain in Mendoza, Argentina.

More defeats - and now United have arrived at the foot of Everest, the daddy of them all.

Their feeble plight has brought out the boffinator in some of us these past weeks. The temptation has been to reach for the record books and the calculators in an attempt to figure out the improbability of the Tannadice club surviving in the Premiership.

The numbers are grim, the look-away-now variety for all United fans.

Mixu Paatelainen has been unable to turn around Dundee United's fortunes
Mixu Paatelainen has been unable to turn around Dundee United's fortunes

Over the last 10 seasons the team in 11th place in the league at season's end has had an average of 36 points. Eleventh would give United a shot at salvation. That's where they need to get to - an estimated 36 points.

Right now, they have 10 - 11 fewer than Kilmarnock in 11th. Paatelainen is gathering points at an even slower rate than his predecessor.

They need another 26 points - assuming those above them don't have any fancy notions of going on unbeaten runs - from 17 games to give themselves a hope. That works out at almost nine wins - they're currently on two - and a scoring average of 1.5 points per game for the rest of the season where their current average is 0.48.

Frankly, we are getting perilously close to the stage where Lorraine Kelly gets Uri Geller to stare down the camera lens of her television programme urging Britain to help the unfortunate Tangerines with the power of their mind. Uri, with all his spoon-bending certainty, might fancy his chances of getting the job done, but this could be a gig too far.

The malaise is not just on the field, it's off it. Not that long ago, Paatelainen bemoaned the fact that he inherited a team that had no tactics. Whatever the truth of that, he's had 11 games to fix it and it has not happened. Five points from a possible 33 doesn't leave you with much of a leg to stand on.

The other night on Sportsound, Stephen Thompson, the chairman, eviscerated McNamara's signings, blaming him for blowing the budget on duds. He did not mention the former manager by name, but he didn't have to. McNamara is considering legal action for a possible breach of confidentiality.

Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson criticised the summer signings made by former manager Jackie McNamara
Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson criticised the summer signings made by former manager Jackie McNamara

Thompson had a point about the signings. True, McNamara lost important players in Ryan Gauld, Andrew Robertson, Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay Steven and Nadir Ciftci, but he is hardly the first manager in Scotland to have lost key talent to monied suitors.

It happened to Motherwell and Stuart McCall rebuilt them., It happened to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and they found others. United lost more big names than anybody else, but they signed a cavalry of players in their place and too many of them bombed. That's largely on McNamara. The chairman cannot be faulted for backing his manager's judgement. That's what chairmen are supposed to do.

Have they learned their lesson? Paatelainen's signings haven't exactly turned things around either. The latest of them is a Finnish striker, Riku Riski. The surname seems appropriate somehow,

Riski is going to have to be some player over the next five months. He's going to have to score a volume of goals that overrides the catastrophically soft ones United keep giving away and he's going to have to do it against a grim backdrop.

United have two fights going on - the one to avoid relegation and the one to apportion blame. At the moment, the latter is more keenly contested than the former.