EXCLUSIVE: Rangers coach Kenny McDowall believes early exposure will help starlets maximise potential

AS introductions to first-team football go, it has been about as demanding as it gets for the Rangers kids this season.

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Kenny McDowall says consistency is the key for Rangers' youngsters
Kenny McDowall says consistency is the key for Rangers' youngsters

Starlets like Fraser Aird, Robbie Crawford, Chris Hegarty, Lewis Macleod, Barrie McKay and Kal Naismith have all been fast-tracked into Ally McCoist's side.

And the eyes of the whole of Scotland – not to mention the rest of the world – have been upon them as the Glasgow giants restarted in the Irn-Bru Third Division.

Despite their tender years, they have all been expected to perform every time they take to the field and ensure the Ibrox club wins every game home and away.

At times, the likes of Aird, Macleod and McKay have earned rave reviews for their bright displays, and great things have been predicted for the future.

Yet, when things have not gone to plan, as has often been the case in a turbulent campaign, they have been subjected to fierce criticism both in the media and from their own supporters.

Away from home especially, the fledglings have often seemed unable to cope with the intensely physical nature of the lower leagues.

All in all, then, it has been quite a baptism of fire for the youngsters plucked from the relative obscurity of the youth teams and thrust into the spotlight during the 2012/13 season.

Kenny McDowall, the Rangers assistant manager who excelled at nurturing youngsters during his hugely successful spell as reserve team coach at Celtic, accepts a lot has been asked of their talented crop of babes. But McDowall reckons that the rollercoaster ride the boys have been on in recent weeks will provide them with a solid grounding in the game.

And he envisages Rangers will benefit from that enormously in the years to come as they seek to move back up the divisions and establish themselves in the top division.

He said: "The fact that we have had young players coming into the team and getting a game this season has been good. They are going to be far better players for this experience.

"We lost a team of international players in the summer. It was a serious blow to us. That is the level we were at. We had a good standard.

"Now we have been put into the Third Division. But everybody has accepted that and the big thing for us is that we get on and try and win the championship. We will see where that takes us.

"Lewis Macleod, Barrie McKay and Fraser Aird have all come in and done well. The grounding they are getting just now is going to stand them in good stead, that's for sure.

"They are starting to find their feet now. They know what is needed at this level and what to expect. Early on, that was perhaps not the case."

McDowall continued: "Getting into the first team is a big deal for any young player whenever it happens and whatever level it is at.

"You have to remember that these guys were playing youth league football last year. To now be playing in front of 49,000 fans at home games is a lot to take on for any young player.

"What you generally find is that, initially, their form will go through the roof. They start to expect to do well – but their form then starts to dip. But they need to keep applying themselves. "

He went on: "They get to know the habits which are required and the standard that is required at this club.

"They have to set themselves a high standard every week. They can't have one good week, one bad week, one not so bad week and so on.

"Good players establish themselves at Old Firm clubs because they are consistent players. You tend to find they become international players in due course because of that as well."

McDowall was, along with everyone associated with Rangers, deeply disappointed when the league match with Elgin City at Borough Briggs last Sunday was postponed due to tickets being over-sold.

For he has seen signs that the young lads have adapted to the unique requirements of away games in the Third Division in the wins over Clyde at Broadwood and East Stirling at Ochilview.

And he was looking forward to seeing how they dealt with the showdown in Moray against their nearest challengers in the league.

He reflected: "These kids are playing against men and they have had to adapt to the physicality of it. They are getting better now. They are starting to be more aware of what they are up against in away games.

"It was only a matter of time before we got the win away from home. We weren't concerned. We knew it would come. It was just a matter of the players learning how to deal with it.

"A lot was getting made of it because it was Rangers. That was new to the younger players as well; picking up the paper after a poor performance and bad result and reading critical reports. But that goes with playing here.

"You have to accept that and learn how to deal with it. The way to deal with it, of course, is by playing well and winning games. I think they are now doing that."

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