DJ: It's fitness first for Rangers

RANGERS have taken a bit of stick for their performances and results during their pre-season tour of both the Highlands and then Canada and the United States.

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Rangers boss Ally McCoist has been giving all his squad some game time during their pre-season friendlies
Rangers boss Ally McCoist has been giving all his squad some game time during their pre-season friendlies

But I can't understand why. Ally McCoist has changed his entire side during the course of the friendly matches the Ibrox club has taken on in the close season.

And he has not gone away looking for continuity of selection. He has gone out looking to give every member of his squad some game time.

Results are not of huge importance in the build-up to a new campaign. Improving the players' fitness and increasing their sharpness most definitely are.

Rangers drew a few negative comments when they beat Sacramento Republic 2-1 last weekend.

But, a few days after that, West Brom, a Barclays Premier League club, struggled to beat them 1-0. I also watched West Ham in action in a game over in New Zealand this week and they lost to Wellington Phoenix.

But, again, the result is not really that significant. What is important is getting it right when it matters.

I'm afraid that it doesn't seem to register with some people that performances and results are not of paramount importance at this early stage of the campaign.

Ally was hoping to go over to Canada and the United States, play two or three games and gradually increase the physical fitness of his charges before competitive football gets underway.

That is exactly what has been achieved. Ally gave what was effectively, with a few exceptions, his second string side a run out against the Victoria Highlanders in midweek and was not especially impressed with their showing.

So I think he was looking for a slight improvement in the last game of the trip against Ottawa Fury on Wednesday night as it was the second-last friendly game his side had. And that is exactly what he got.

He probably fielded the strongest team available to him. I imagine the side he picks to face Derby County a week tomorrow will be pretty much the same.

He gave Darren McGregor a run at right-back and fielded Lee McCulloch and Bilel Mohsni in the centre of his defence in the absence of the injured Marius Zaliukas.

Having seen McGregor a few times last season, when he played for St Mirren in the top flight, I would like to see him given a regular game.

If that has to be at right-back then so be it. If Zaliukas is fit then I would imagine the Lithuanian will be the preferred choice alongside captain McCulloch at centre-half.

But the tour will have given the manager a good idea of what his first-choice back line should be.

Lewis Macleod, who was sidelined for the second half of last season with a virus, did very well against Ottawa before being replaced by Dean Shiels towards the end of the game. Having him back is like a new signing.

Lee Wallace, who had to sit out the end of the 2013/14 campaign due to a hip injury, has also gone from strength to strength in the last few weeks which has been good to see.

The manager has decisions to make about who plays where because he now has competition for places that was not there in the last two seasons.

It is a nice problem for him to have. Any player who produces sub-standard performances in the SPFL Championship and in the cup competitions will find themselves warming the bench. That was not always the case before.

I am sure the Rangers players will return to Scotland feeling pretty happy with the progress they have made ahead of their opening game against Hibs in the Petrofac Training Cup on Tuesday week.

I don't think many people expected Rangers to do the amount of foreign travel that they have this summer. The club, after all, are not awash with money.

But the bottom line is they haven't paid for anything. These things are all sorted by the other side. The opposition teams effectively subsidise the trip.

It has been a great excursion for Rangers. It has been good for the players, the new boys especially, to mix with each other for such a long time.


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