CAMMY Bell believes Rangers can maintain a high performance level in the SPFL Championship thanks to their new-found strength in depth.
Supporters of the Ibrox club were given a glimpse of what they can expect in the second tier of Scottish football earlier on this week.
They took on Hibs - who will be among their main rivals for promotion to the top flight this term - in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup.
And the Gers were given a serious scare, and then some, in their first competitive fixture of the 2014/15 campaign on Tuesday night.
Alan Stubbs' side dominated large swathes of the game and cancelled out an opening goal by Lewis Macleod midway through the second half when Danny Handling netted.
Ally McCoist's team needed extra-time, and a well-taken goal from the hitherto anonymous central midfielder Nicky Law, in order to edge out their rivals from the capital.
It was a warning that, as has been widely anticipated, Rangers will not find things quite so straightforward this season as they have in the last two.
They will be playing against predominantly full-time clubs - including Falkirk, Hearts, Hibs, Queen of the South and Raith Rovers - in their division. However, goalkeeper Bell, who had to pull off a few good blocks to keep his side in front against Hibs, knows exactly what to expect in the months ahead.
And he believes that the League One champions have enough quality players in their ranks to maintain their push for a third consecutive title.
Light Blues manager McCoist has only, so far at least, brought in four new players: Kris Boyd, Darren McGregor, Kenny Miller and Marius Zaliukas.
And he has lost Emilson Cribari, Chris Hegarty, Andy Little and Ross Perry - and Arnold Peralta has also failed to reappear after his summer break.
But the former Scotland internationalist is confident that his club can cope with the demands of what promises to be a highly competitive league.
He has a point; centre-half Bilel Mohsni was ruled out of the midweek game after picking up a suspension at the weekend and McGregor and Zaliukas both came in and performed well.
Bell said: "We are ready for the new season and raring to go. We have been training for nearly two months now and have taken part in a lot of games.
"The manager has brought in new players in the close season and they have integrated into the group really well and been welcomed in by the boys.
"We now have competition for places in every area of the field. Every player here knows that if they allow their standards to drop somebody is waiting to take their place.
"That is healthy as it keeps you performing well week in, week out. Nobody should ever feel that they are guaranteed a place in the team automatically."
If any player in the Rangers side is an automatic selection it is Bell; the former Killie player was outstanding for his new club in the third tier last season.
He kept them in games single-handedly on occasion in his debut campaign - in the
second half of it especially - and ensured they went unbeaten in the league for the first time in more than a century.
HOWEVER, the 27-year-old has admitted that even he fears for his place with experienced English stopper Steve Simonsen waiting to take his berth if he slips up.
He said: "I have always been on my toes ever since I arrived here. There is competition for places at the club. You have got to impress every day in training, never mind in the matches that you are involved in, because the manager is watching us.
"I have got Steve here and he is a top quality player who has been at a lot of major clubs throughout his career. I have to keep myself on my toes and performing well every game."
McCoist admitted that his side can play far better than they did on Tuesday night against Hibs after seeing his side sneak into the next round of the cup competition.
And with a game against Hearts coming up on Sunday in a Championship opener set to be screened live on Sky Sports they may have to improve dramatically - and quickly.
THE Tynecastle club are, despite being relegated from the Premiership last season, expected to pose the main threat to the Glasgow club for the title.
But Bell knows there is room for stark improvement in his side's display and stressed they would examine in detail how they played and how they can improve this weekend.
He said: "We want to continue to improve as a team and have a successful season and I think with the players that we have at our disposal now we can certainly do that.
"We always look back on each game and look at areas where we can improve.
"It is a fairly standard part of our routine. That is what we will do this time out.
"Everyone is looking forward to the season getting
under way and we want to start things off in the league with a win.
"It will not be easy as Hearts are a good side, but it would lay down a marker for the new campaign."