MARK Warburton last night described Aberdeen’s intense hatred of Rangers as “sad” ahead of the first meeting between the bitter rivals in nearly five years tomorrow.

Warburton’s side will be given a hot reception when they take to the field ahead of the Ladbrokes Premiership match against Derek McInnes’s side.

Aberdeen fans will hold a minute’s applause in the 12th minute – a reference to the year of the Ibrox club’s liquidation – to “welcome Rangers to Pittodrie for the first time”.

Members of the Red Army in the sell-out 20,000-strong crowd are also set to wear black armbands during a game that will be screened live by Sky Sports.

Englishman Warburton admitted that he was puzzled by the level of enmity directed towards his side by supporters of the North-east club and branded it “quite sad”.

“I don’t mean to be naïve, but it is perplexing,” he said. “I keep hearing about the hatred, the pure hatred, the pure bitterness. It’s football we’re talking about!

“I’ve heard about the warmth of reception and the rivalry between the clubs. I don’t really understand it and I haven’t asked the question why. I don’t really understand where the bitterness comes from. It’s a hostile environment with Rangers going to Aberdeen.

“No one has really explained to me where it really came from. Someone said to me that it was because Graeme Souness took over and somebody else said it was because of the Ian Durrant tackle. It does seem quite sad that it should be at this state.”

Warburton, though, has backed his players to cope with the abuse they are set to receive and build on the 5-0 triumph they recorded in the Betfred Cup quarter-final against Queen of the South on Tuesday evening.

“They are professionals,” he said. “It would be poor of me to say we’re not ready for that. They have to recognise it, deal with it and deliver a performance.”

Meanwhile, Warburton confirmed that Kenny Miller, who is facing assault charges following an incident in a restaurant in Bothwell after the Old Firm game earlier this month, would be in the Rangers squad and had the full backing of the Ibrox club.

“Kenny is fit, well, trained well and he will travel to Aberdeen with us,” said Warburton. “I don’t think it will affect his focus. Kenny is the ultimate professional so I’ve got no doubts about Kenny Miller on or off the pitch, none at all.

“What I will say is that we give the player 100 per cent support, absolutely 100 per cent support throughout the whole process.”

Elsewhere, Warburton admitted that his players were looking forward to playing Celtic, who beat Rangers 5-1 in a Premiership match at Parkhead a fortnight ago, in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden next month.

“We’re in the League Cup draw and that’s the important thing,” he said. “Whoever you get, Aberdeen, Morton or Celtic, it’s a semi-final at Hampden and we’ll fill out the Rangers end, that’s for sure.

“It’s a semi-final and for some of our players it will be their first time playing at Hampden, so go and enjoy it. We’ll prepare well for the game, we want to win it and get into the cup final, that’s what we want to do.”

Meanwhile, Warburton has stressed that refereeing decisions involving Rangers are subjected to the same level of scrutiny as those in Celtic games - despite Brendan Rodgers suggesting otherwise this week.

"There is a huge focus on both clubs," he said. “Whatever it is – an offside decision, a linesman’s call, a referee’s call or a high tackle – it will be examined to death in the papers.”