CHRIS Hegarty today welcomed the return to action of Ross Perry – even though his availability could jeopardise his place in the Rangers first team.

Hegarty retained his spot at centre-half in the starting line-up for the Irn-Bru Third Division match against Elgin City at Borough Briggs at the weekend

But the 20-year-old knows that, with Perry fit once again, he will have to maintain his high standards in order to stay involved in Ally McCoist's team.

However, the Northern Ireland Under-21 star, who is hoping to get the nod to play against Clyde at Ibrox this afternoon, believes he can rise to that challenge.

And he is hopeful the size of the squad available to the manager now will ensure Rangers maintain and extend their nine-point lead at the top of the league table.

"I am sure the manager will want to bring in experienced players like Ross in the weeks ahead," said Hegarty.

"But it is really good for us that both Emilson Cribari and Ross are back after injury. Emilson is a very good, experienced player. He has played for a lot of top sides in his time.

"Having him slotting in beside me on Saturday, and having Ross come on during the game, was excellent. It is good to have both of them back."

He added: "We have definitely got some good competition for places in the squad now. I think that is one of the most important things in having a winning side.

"You want to do better than the guy who is looking to play in the same position as you and you know somebody is there to take your place if you allow your standards to slip.

"It is a positive thing for us. The guys out of the team who are sitting on the bench are quality players and are looking to play regularly. At the weekend there, for instance, we had Francisco Sandaza on the bench.

"We have guys to come back into things as well, the likes of Kevin Kyle and Dean Shiels, who have minor knocks just now. They will be itching to get back.

"The competition for places at the club just now is really, really good. But I think that will stand us in good stead throughout the season. It is definitely a big positive for us going into 2013."

Hegarty has played in seven of the matches during Rangers' impressive eight-game winning run in recent weeks and has impressed many with his physicality and maturity

The Dungannon-born youngster has paid tribute to his team-mates for helping him make the step up from the youth ranks to senior football with such aplomb.

And he is hopeful that, with the likes of Ian Black, Cribari, Kyle, Lee McCulloch, Sandaza and Shiels all now involved, he will improve further in the remainder of the campaign.

He remarked: "It is brilliant for me to have so many experienced players alongside me. I am learning off guys who have played a lot of games in the SPL in the past and have played international football.

"Emilson, too, has played at the highest level in Italy. Lazio signed him from Udinese for €5million a few years ago. He has been a big player for us this season. I can only learn off these guys and improve.

"I certainly learned off Lee when he was playing at centre-half while Emilson and Ross were out injured. Having experienced guys alongside me is a very good thing for me and will aid my development."