RANGERS must go on an extended William Hill Scottish Cup run this season if they want to keep their loyal fans behind them in the same large numbers.

That was the warning from one-time Light Blues captain Ally Dawson yesterday as he gave his thoughts on the current situation at his former club.

Mark Warburton’s side lost the third Old Firm game of the 2016/17 campaign on Saturday when they went down 2-1 to Brendan Rodgers’s team at Ibrox.

The result sent Celtic, who still have a game in hand, no fewer than 19 points clear at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership table.

It is now universally acknowledged that Rangers have no chance of preventing their rampant city rivals from winning a sixth consecutive Scottish title.

They will simply be bidding to finish as runners-up in the top flight ahead of Aberdeen and Hearts and secure a return to Europe after a six year absence in the coming months.

That would, given the size of their budget, their ongoing off-field issues and the fact this is their first season back in the elite league, be a decent return for their efforts.

However, an incredible 43,168 fans bought season tickets in the summer - just two short of the record 43,170 they sold in the 2006/07 season - after the likes of Joey Barton, Niko Kranjcar and Jordan Rossiter all arrived.

Dawson believes it is vital that Warburton’s men also enjoy a decent Scottish Cup to repay their long-suffering supporters for their incredible backing.

The Hall of Fame member was a player at Ibrox during a difficult spell in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Rangers failed to win the league once in nine years.

He knows from first-hand experience how frustrated fans can get if they aren’t watching a winning team and believes cup success is a great way to keep their spirits high.

Rangers take on Motherwell at Ibrox in the fourth round of this year's Scottish Cup when the three week winter break ends on January 21 and Dawson reckons it is important they triumph.

“The fortunate thing for us back in the 1980s when Rangers were struggling to do well in the league was we often had good some cup runs,” he said.

“We managed to win the League Cup and the Scottish Cup on a few occasions and I think that helped to ease a little bit of the pain that supports felt at their team being unable to win the league.

“We just had to grit our teeth, work hard and get through it. But we had decent cup runs and victories and I think they kept both us as players and the supporters going.

“If Rangers could enjoy a good cup run, as they did last year when they beat Celtic and reached the final, then it would definitely lift the club and the fans. It gives the supporters something to look forward to.

“If they get knocked out, then what do they have to look forward to? Watching Celtic run away with the league? Finishing second? A cup run is vitally important to the club at this year.

"The fans have shown their support through the lean times. It is amazing they are still coming out in their tens of thousands and it is so important they continue to do that.

“The fans will help them get on a better footing and keep them moving towards a time when they can challenge and overtake Celtic.”

Dawson was a player at Rangers when Graeme Souness took over as manager in 1986 and saw how his lavish signing spree transformed the fortunes of the Ibrox club.

He brought in England internationalists Terry Butcher, Graham Roberts and Chris Woods and led his side to their first title success since 1978.

But Dawson believes it is vital that the current Rangers board continue to build gradually to avoid any recurrence of the horrendous off-field problems they have endured in recent seasons.

"The supporters will expect things to be sorted out as quickly as possible and will feel they shouldn’t be in the situation they are in," he said.

"The fans enjoyed the Graeme Souness era and the subsequent success the club enjoyed, but things have to be done differently from now on.

"I don’t see anything like the Souness Revolution happening again. I don’t see anybody coming in and taking the club on. It is down to the people who are there now.

"I think it will take a number of years to get back to the level we were at before, but that is the right way to do it.

"Rangers will get there. When it does come it will be joyous and the fans will appreciate it far more. But there is still a long way to go.

"I stayed at Rangers for another year after Souness took over and a better quality of player came in. It was great to be playing with really good players. The club went from strength to strength.

"But they can’t afford to go back down that route and hopefully they won’t go down that route. Doing that was the cause of all the problems in the first place.

"I can understand the fans’ frustration. Rangers should be spending more money and have better players given the size of club they are.

"But they have to resist the temptation to spend a lot of money and try to fix things right away. They might not bring the right players in, they might spend a lot of money and still not enjoy the success they want to.

"What they are doing, building slowly, is far better in the long run. It will mean the club is on far more solid foundations. I know that is difficult for some fans to accept, but they can’t just throw millions of pounds into it.

"I actually think they aren’t a million miles away from it. I think it only needs two or three players to come in and click.

"They are a good bit behind Celtic, but they aren’t a good bit behind the rest of Scottish football. They have something to build on."