Lee Wallace: Rangers need zero tolerance at the back

LEE Wallace today vowed to do all he could to increase Rangers' clean-sheet haul after another second-half slip-up.

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Wallace feels he has improved in his defensive duties over the last year or so
Wallace feels he has improved in his defensive duties over the last year or so

The left-back and his team-mates looked to be heading for a comfortable win over Berwick Rangers in an Irn-Bru Third Division clash at Ibrox earlier this month Saturday.

However, they switched off in a catastrophic eight-minute spell and conceded two goals in quick succession to Ross Gray and Fraser McLaren. Only a strike from Andy Little – his third of the game – managed to settle the nerves of the Ibrox crowd.

Wallace, who deputised for Lee McCulloch as captain against Berwick after an injury ruled the skipper out, was gutted at the lapse.

It came the week after the Rangers rearguard had needlessly gifted part-time rivals Elgin City a late goal in a highly embarrassing 1-1 draw at home.

Despite his clear attacking ability, Wallace takes enormous pride in ensuring rival teams fail to breach the Rangers back line both home and away.

So far in the 2012/13 campaign, Ally McCoist's men have prevented their opponents from scoring in no fewer than 15 of their 30 games.

In the league, the Glasgow club have successfully repelled their adversaries in eight of their 20 outings so far.

Given the turmoil that still engulfed Rangers as they kicked off the season back at the end of July, it is a fairly impressive record.

Yet, former Scotland internationalist Wallace will be looking to improve upon it in both the William Hill Scottish Cup and the Third Division in the remaining games of the season.

"I think there is always a massive emphasis on us defending whenever we play," he agreed. "It is always good to see zero in the opposition goal tally.

"Although I do like to get forward, the manager is always stressing to me that, first and foremost, I am a defender and I have to make sure I deal with my duties at the back.

"That is something I have learned to do more of since I came to Rangers than perhaps I had done in the past.

"We have had 15 clean sheets in the 30 games we have played so far including eight in the league. We are relatively happy with that. But we want to continue that going forward."

Having been hastily cobbled together in the summer, a new-look Rangers team leaked both goals and points to the likes of Peterhead, Berwick, Annan and Stirling Albion in the early weeks of the season.

But Wallace insists that in the last few months, despite being affected by a series of injuries, the defence has improved immeasurably.

"We are far more comfortable playing with each other than we were at the start of the season," he said. "We have had a fair few guys dropping out of the team too.

"We played with Lee at the back for a while and had Kevin Kyle and then Francisco Sandaza up top.

"Despite that, we are always pretty solid. We have a right good base that allows the guys ahead of us to go on and do their stuff.

"The defence has changed quite a bit. My left centre-half partner has not always been the same; I have had Ross Perry, Emilson Cribari and also Carlos Bocanegra earlier in the season.

"But you are with each other in training every day and we are playing more and more games together.

"We are all professionals and most of the back four have had a taste of SPL action – or, in the case of Emilson, at a high level abroad.

"Whoever we are matched up with as a back four we will always aim to be as solid as possible."

One member of the Rangers defence who had no experience of first-team football at senior level before this season got underway was youngster Chris Hegarty.

However, the Northern Ireland Under-21 internationalist, the first player to pledge his future to the "newco" club in the summer, has been outstanding for the Ibrox club.

The 20-year-old from Dungannon played at right-back and centre-half in 10 of the games in an 11-match unbeaten run that sent the Gers clear at the top of the Third Division.

Wallace has certainly been impressed with how his young team-mate, one of several kids from the Murray Park youth ranks to have served notice of his enormous potential in recent months, has fared and is hoping the thigh injury he picked up at the weekend is not too serious.

"Chris has been great," he enthused. "He came in at right-back again Clyde and was tremendous that day..

"He has been given the chance to go in at his favoured position at centre-half and he has looked really, really strong. Chris can be aggressive in the air and in the tackle.

"It has been brilliant to see another youngster to get involved in the first team.

"I am sure he will continue to go from strength to strength."

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