McCulloch: Watch Rangers kids kick on

IT has never been just about the taking part for Rangers.

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Lee McCulloch has led from the back alongside Bilel Mohsni
Lee McCulloch has led from the back alongside Bilel Mohsni

Winning is everything, the be-all and end-all.

Silverware is stitched into the fabric of the club and while the latest trophies to be added to the Ibrox cabinet do not rank amongst the other illustrious achievements on the Light Blues' honour roll, they are no less important.

The way in which Ally McCoist's side claimed the League One crown this year was not to everyone's liking, with fans voicing their displeasure at a series of performances that fell some way short of the standards expected, even with an allowance and degree of understanding granted for the position the Gers find themselves in on and off the field.

In the end, though, the job was done and the title was won and captain Lee McCulloch knows that was the most important thing as Stage Two of The Journey was completed with barely a hiccup.

"That is what it is all about and that is what you play football for, to win leagues and collect winner's medals," McCulloch said.

"When you play for Rangers, you are under pressure to win all the time and you have to thrive on that.

"We have done that this season by winning the league and now we have to keep it going into next season.

"It has been a good season for us and we want to keep progressing next year."

For a man who has won countless top-flight titles and domestic cups, appeared in European finals and represented his country, there are unlikely to be many memories from this campaign that will challenge his most cherished days in the game.

But the League One title was a means to an end for Rangers, a hurdle that had to be overcome to allow them to finally return to the arena where they belong, probably the season after next.

The step up to the Championship will provide another challenge for McCoist's side, but McCulloch reckons the Ibrox squad will once again be better equipped for a stiffer test having handled the ground with ease this term.

He said: "There has been a lot of pressure and expectation on the boys this season, but when you are lucky enough to play for a club like Rangers you have to deal with it and handle it.

"We will enjoy our time off, but we are already looking forward to next season.

"It was hard for the young boys that came into the team last season, they had to handle the pressure last year, but I think they have kicked on this season and progressed.

"Hopefully that will continue next season and the boys that were new to the club will be better off for the experience they have gained."

Rangers amassed more than 100 points and surpassed a century of goals on their way to the League One title as they finished 39 points ahead of second-placed Dunfermline.

It was their defensive resolve that so often earned them wins, however, with victories ground out through narrow margins as the foundations for success were laid at the heart of the Light Blues rearguard.

McCulloch stepped back from his role at the head of the Rangers attack last term to lead from the back alongside Bilel Mohsni as McCoist's side eased to the third-tier crown.

At 35, the skipper is in the twilight of his career and while he is less expressive and eye-catching than his defensive partner, his influence was no less important for the champions.

McCulloch said: "I have been delighted with my form this season.

"The number of clean sheets the back four and Cammy Bell have got is really good and I have scored 18 goals as well.

"To get that number from centre-half, I have got to be pleased with that.

"The fans have taken Bilel to their hearts this season. He is a fantastic guy, a good player and a really good guy to have about the dressing room. He has his style, it is in his make-up.

"We have formed a good partnership and scored 30 goals between us this season."

In a season of mixed performances, Lee Wallace emerged as the obvious candidate to be named not just the best player at Ibrox but the top star in League One this term.

He is not the only man to impress with the Light Blues No.3 jersey on his back, however, with Stevie Smith belatedly showing that he can still cut it and prove a big player for Rangers going forward. Smith played nine matches in the closing weeks of the campaign, scoring three times for the champions, and McCulloch has hailed the left-back for making the most of his chance to shine.

McCulloch said: "I am delighted for Stevie, his form since he got back into the team was terrific.

"It just shows you what can happen when you get a run of games and you are playing regularly.

"He has been given a chance to show what he can do and I think he was our best player for the last five or six games.

"Having someone like Stevie coming in and doing so well just shows you the strength in depth we have got in the squad.

"He had to wait for his chance to play because Lee was doing so well for us.

"It is hard when you are not playing and you have to wait for an opportunity.

"But Lee has been our Player of the Year and it was hard for Stevie. When he has come in, he has shown what a good player he is, though."

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