Silver service return will show Ibrox kids are on right course

IT would sit in the trophy room like every other honour, but the next item of silverware Rangers could get their hands on will not herald quite the same reaction as its predecessors.

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Barrie McKay is a Murray Park graduate who has made the grade in the Third Division
Barrie McKay is a Murray Park graduate who has made the grade in the Third Division

Victory over Glasgow rivals Queen's Park at Ibrox this evening would give the Gers their first title of the season and see them crowned Reserve League champions.

For a club that has won a world record haul of league and cups and tasted European glory, this would be an achievement to be marked with a congratulatory pat on the back rather than champagne.

It will still be a significant moment, however.

Twelve months ago, youth coach Tommy Wilson didn't know if he would have a club to work for, never mind a team to prepare.

He has seen a number of his former pupils go and make the grade in the Light Blues first team this term as Ally McCoist's side have romped away with the Irn-Bru Third Division title.

Tonight, he will look to guide his youngsters to the first silverware since the dark days of administration, the first, small step on the long road to recovery.

He said: "Last year we didn't play in a reserve league, I just arranged around 25 fixtures against foreign teams, English teams and Scottish teams.

"We haven't been in a reserve league for two or three years. And because of events of that day when we went into administration, it will be such a sweet moment if we can win the league tonight.

"It's been a year of ups and downs, highs and lows and hard work from everyone at the club.

"There was talk about what was going to happen with our players and coaches, there was a lot of people with families and mortgages who had no idea what was happening.

"They continued to work hard and put the club before themselves.

"If we're fortunate enough to win anything this season it would be down to them as much as anyone else."

On the day it was announced that disgraced ex-chairman Craig Whyte had begun administration proceedings, Wilson joined McCoist and a host of first-team stars on a team bus bound for Edinburgh and a game with Hibernian.

Few of those who took to the field that afternoon remain at the club, but there are plenty of players who Wilson has nurtured that are now making an impression.

The likes of Lewis Macleod, Barrie McKay, Fraser Aird and Robbie Crawford have shown they are more than capable of cutting it in their maiden campaign in the first team, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with SPL-quality players and internationalists.

McCoist will soon be able to enter the transfer market once again to add further quality to his ranks but Wilson is confident the Murray Park kids can continue to play their part and cause the Gers boss some serious selection headaches.

"The manager has that just now," he said. "Is it Dean Shiels or Barrie McKay? Is it Ian Black or Kyle Hutton? Is it David Templeton or Fraser Aird?

"The manager has decisions to make when picking the team. These boys are vying for the first team.

"I am sure the manager will strengthen the squad, but our lads are more than capable of challenging for those positions. They either sink or swim and that is what it is all about."

The Third Division may not be the ideal level to truly test their potential, but Rangers' young guns have put down a marker of their intentions.

They have coped with the rigours of senior football and the rough and tumble nature of our lowest tier with aplomb in recent months.

But Wilson reckons the time on the training field has been just as beneficial to their development this season.

"It is hard to encapsulate it," he said. "I don't want to embarrass Robbie but there is a big difference in him.

"Not necessarily by playing with the first team but by training with them every day.

"That is where he has to raise his game mentally, physically, in every way every single day that he is in here.

"We can't replicate that in the youth teams, you just can't do it. It doesn't matter how hard you train.

"We measure the boys' heart rate after the training sessions and simply by walking from one side of the building to the other their training response is up by 5 or 10% because of the excitement and the enthusiasm.

"That, for us, is invaluable. You can't buy that."

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