Thrill-seeker Ally as Edinburgh clubs set Rangers a challenge

TWO down, one to go.

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Second step ... Lee Wallace and Ian Black celebrate with the League One Trophy after beating Stranraer 3-0
Second step ... Lee Wallace and Ian Black celebrate with the League One Trophy after beating Stranraer 3-0

The Journey has been completed as planned so far, with few bumps along the way for Rangers, but two big hurdles are now in their path.

Having won the Third Division and League One crowns with relative ease, the Championship is next on the agenda for manager Ally McCoist and the squad he has once again bolstered to ensure he has the strongest possible hand.

Their bid for a third straight promotion and a place in the Premiership begins this afternoon but two old foes must be overcome.

Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian all find themselves in Scotland's second tier for very different reasons but they share an ambition and objective - to ensure they are not still there next season.

Rangers have already seen off one challenge from the green half of the capital, a win over Alan Stubbs' side at Ibrox on Tuesday night giving them a place in the second round of the Petrofac Training Cup.

Tomorrow the visit of Hearts will mark the start of the Championship title race.

The Light Blues have had to endure far more than their capital counterparts, with their fall from grace even more dramatic and painful for Light Blue supporters.

But with two smaller steps completed, the Gers must now make the giant leap.

"We've come through the two divisions comfortably and it's been one heck of an adventure," McCoist said.

"But what we're aiming to do is get back to the top flight.

"Let's be honest about it, we didn't expect to be playing Hearts or Hibs in the Championship. But those games have added spice, if you like.

"We just thought we would be playing those teams in the top league and it's not turned out that way.

"Listen, playing Hearts and Hibs at Tynecastle and Easter Road - and them coming to Glasgow - have always been big games.

"Hibs had a terrific support when they played us on Tuesday and they were very vocal.

"Hearts fans will be the same, having sold out their allocation.

"It's just small things like that which show we're heading in the right direction.

"We're not back, we have hurdles to overcome, but these are hurdles we're facing sooner than we imagined."

Having sampled venues from Annan to Peterhead on their long and winding road back to the top of our game, the Championship will provide Rangers with more familiar surroundings this season.

The level of competition will rise once again but the silverware should be in the Ibrox trophy room this time next year.

McCoist is taking nothing for granted as old rivalries are resumed once again, however.

"It's a great game to start with," he said. "It's actually a great month for us. I had a wee look at the fixture list the other day and it's exciting.

"We had Hibs last week and now Hearts — still two of the biggest clubs in the country — and then after that we have Falkirk.

"The thing Tuesday night hit home to everybody was just how difficult it's going to be. It's going to be a great league.

"I watched Hibs a few times last season and for 20 minutes of the second half against us that was as good as I'd seen them.

"They have a complete freshness and newness about them with the new manager and the new set-up.

"Hearts will be the exact same and teams like Falkirk, Queen of the South and Dumbarton will thrive on the three of us being in the league.

"I think it's going to be a smashing league and we're really looking forward to the first game."

In the three years since Rangers last did battle with Hearts and Hibs, all have experienced significant lows.

The badges on the front of the shirts are the same but the names on the back and the quality of player wearing them has changed dramatically.

But McCoist knows the occasion will be as it once was as Light Blue trio Lee Wallace, Ian Black and David ­Templeton will line up against their former club while Neil Alexander and Danny Wilson will make their returns to Ibrox.

He said: "Hearts were definitely better at the end of the season than they were at the start. The pressure was maybe off them a little bit so I fully expect us to be facing a Hearts team like that.

"They have brought some good players in too who have played at the top level in Scotland before.

"They have stability in Danny Wilson and Neil Alexander who know our club pretty well.

"It makes it really interesting. It's a great game for us to start with but it's also a great game for them to start with."

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