IAN Durrant today defended Rangers boss Ally McCoist's decision to rest his young guns – and insisted the Ibrox club will reap the rewards in the future.
The Light Blues boss has left starlets like Fraser Aird, Robbie Crawford, Lewis Macleod and Barrie McKay out of his team in Irn-Bru Third Division ties in recent weeks.
Without the enthusiasm, pace and skill of the highly-rated Murray Park graduates, performances on the park have often left much to be desired for the supporters.
Indeed, this month Rangers have slumped to a 1-1 draw with Elgin City, survived a second-half scare against Berwick Rangers and sneaked a narrow 1-0 victory over Peterhead.
At the weekend the Glasgow giants passed up a number of gilt-edged opportunities and then conceded a late equaliser to draw with part-timers Montrose.
And three of those games – the league meetings with football minnows Elgin, Berwick and Montrose – were played at home in front of massive crowds of 45,000 plus.
But Rangers first-team coach Durrant, who himself burst into the Ibrox team as a wide-eyed lad of just 18 back in 1985, understands why McCoist is resisting the temptation to play the youngsters as much as some may like.
He feels too much has been asked of the likes of Aird, Crawford, Macleod and McKay at times during the 2012/13 campaign due to the threadbare nature of the squad.
And the Gers great believes that giving them a break from the rigours of the physical bottom tier as well as the media spotlight, is essential to their long-term development.
"It's fantastic to see the young boys getting their chance in the first team this season and doing so well," said Durrant.
"But with the size of our squad, we have had to play them a lot longer and a lot more than we had intended.
"Young Lewis, for example, has only missed a handful of our games (before picking up his knee injury at the weekend he had taken part in no fewer than 25 of the 32 competitive matches this term).
"You do see signs of tiredness. They take wee dips in training. It is better to take them out, as the manager does, and give them a complete rest than keep them involved."
Durrant added: "It does recharge their batteries. It is unbelievable in fact. Wee Barrie has been rested recently (the 18-year-old has started the last four games on the bench) and he has been absolutely electric in training.
"They definitely get a boost from it. It takes a bit of pressure off them because they have had to perform at a high level with a lot of focus on them at a young age.
"In Third Division terms, let's not beat about the bush here, we have got a great squad. We also have full-time professionals.
"But we have got a small squad by Rangers' standards, and have had to play the young boys a lot.
"I think they have handled everything that has been asked of them extremely well. But it has been good for us to get bodies back, experienced players who can come in and help."
Durrant reckons the older heads in the Rangers squad, the likes of Ian Black, Emilson Cribari, Francisco Sandaza and Lee Wallace, will be key this weekend.
The Gers have an eagerly-anticipated match against SPL opponents Dundee United at Tannadice in the fifth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup on Saturday.
Adding more intrigue to an already mouth-watering encounter is the fact that only a handful of Rangers fans will be at the game on Tayside due to a boycott, not to mention the hosts parting company with boss Peter Houston yesterday.
McCoist's men, sent down to the Third Division in the summer, have experienced wildly contrasting fortunes against top-flight opposition this term.
They beat Motherwell 2-0 in the Scottish Communities League Cup at Ibrox in September – then crashed to a 3-0 loss to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the next round of the competition at home.
United, who are ready to appoint ex-Rangers defender Steven Pressley as their boss, are the overriding favourites to win the game.
Durrant, who won the Scottish Cup on three occasions in his own playing career in 1992, 1993 and 1996, feels the Light Blues can pull off an upset thanks to the wherewithal of the likes of their more senior servicemen.
"The game with United this weekend is a tough away match for us," he admitted.
"But it is one that we are definitely looking forward to. The experienced boys in our side will be called upon.
"We have players who have been used to playing at SPL level. They know all about what is involved going up to Tannadice.
"I'm sure the young players will acquit themselves well, as they always do. They rise to the occasion whenever asked.
"But the older players will have a big part to play."