TWELVE months ago, festive cheer was in short supply at Ibrox as Rangers edged towards administration and their financial state became increasingly perilous.

Now Light Blue star Andy Little hopes there will be plenty of reasons to celebrate for Ally McCoist's side as they gear up for a crucial stage in their Irn-Bru Third Division title challenge.

It has been a tumultuous year on and off the field for the Gers, but they are finally putting their recent struggles behind them as they look ahead to what they hope will be a prosperous new year.

Last Sunday's William Hill Scottish Cup victory over Elgin was the first match of a hectic schedule of fixtures for McCoist's men as they look to stretch their advantage at the top of the table.

By the time December is out, they will have faced promotion rivals Elgin, Montrose and Queen's Park, as well as hosted Stirling Albion, Annan and Clyde, as their unbeaten home league record at Ibrox is put to the test.

The festive period may not come with the same pressure as normal – dropped points in the coming weeks are not likely to prove as costly come the end of the campaign as they would if the Gers were still going head-to-head with Celtic for the SPL crown.

Nor is there the traditional Ne'erday derby to raise the temperature across Glasgow during the depths of winter.

The will to win and expectation levels remain, however, and Little hopes the festive schedule will once again prove the springboard to success for the Light Blues.

"The Christmas period has always been important," he said. "Ever since I have been at the club, it has always played a big part in who has gone on to win the league I have felt.

"The manager puts a lot of emphasis on the Christmas games and it is no different in the Third Division.

"We have seven games in four weeks and you would like to think that if we can win them all we would be in a really good position going into the new year.

"I hope I can stay in the team. Rotation might have to happen and that is why it is such good timing that we have got boys coming back.

"If there are any changes that need to be made, we have got players who are more than capable of coming in."

The festive fixture calendar can make or break a campaign, whether it is a championship challenge or even a relegation dogfight, with players and managers tested to the limit as the games arrive in quick succession.

While Rangers' Third Division rivals will have to soldier on with thin squads and cope with cancelled training sessions as the big freeze approaches, McCoist's side should be well equipped to emerge virtually unscathed from the trials ahead.

For the first time in several weeks, the Gers boss was able to call on winger David Templeton for their cup clash last weekend, with striker Fran Sandaza also making a welcome return to the matchday squad following his injury lay-off.

With Ross Perry, Emilson Cribari and Sebastien Faure also on the road to recovery, McCoist has more strength in depth than any other boss in the league.

It will give the Ibrox gaffer plenty of selection problems in the weeks ahead and Little reckons there is safety in numbers for the Light Blues.

He said: "It is a boost, but it is going to make positions in the team so competitive, which can only be a good thing.

"They [Templeton and Sandaza] were two big signings for us in the summer and, unfortunately, we have missed them for the majority of the games.

"It is great to have them back in the fold. People are upping the ante in training because they know they have to be at the top of their game if they want to keep their place."

Little has himself only just returned to the fold in recent weeks following a foot injury that deprived him of his chance to impress.

It has been a frustrating spell for the Northern Irishman, but he is confident he is over the worst of his niggling knock.

"I am feeling a lot better," he said. "It was really difficult for me because I kept getting setbacks. It would get better and then I would get a bang on it or a little something and it would flare up again.

"I have seen three specialists and had three or four scans and we have pretty much got to the bottom of it now, which is good."

It says much about the attacking resources McCoist has at his disposal that his team barely missed a player who netted an impressive eight times in the opening weeks of the campaign.

In his absence, the striker has seen Lee McCulloch storm ahead in the scoring charts, with the Light Blue skipper now leading the way with 19 goals to his credit.

Little bagged his ninth of the campaign in the 6-2 win over East Stirlingshire three weeks ago, but the 23-year-old insists it is games, not goals, that remain his priority this term.

Little said: "I had a chance about two months ago, but Lee has kind of run away with it. To be honest, I have said from the very start of the season that this year for me is about playing. I am keen to play as much as possible.

"Goals are a bonus and the manager always talks to me about my goalscoring and I do want to score as many as I can.

"But the most important thing for me is to play as many games as I can this season."