AFTER their early coughs and splutters, the league table offers conclusive evidence that Rangers are managing to cope in the third division without the help of Robbie Savage or Rino Gattuso.
The numbers are emphatic now – 11 consecutive league wins, a 17-point lead at the top – and yesterday the club was able to boast of an even more impressive figure. The Ibrox club announced that after selling some more over recent weeks, they will have 37,890 season-ticket holders for the remainder of this campaign, even more than it had as an Clydesdale Bank Premier League club last season.
"The backing we have had has been unbelievable and I know it will continue," said manager Ally McCoist. "Our attendances have been incredible all season. The supporters deserve enormous credit for turning out in huge numbers week after week."
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The commitment has been remarkable, allowing Rangers to boast of the highest average attendances in the country and fourth highest in Britain despite playing very ordinary football in the third tier of the Scottish Football League. If the prices of their tickets are lower, which would understandably appeal, then so is the standard of player they have paid to watch. The discrepancy between the size of crowds coming to Rangers games and the standard of player they are watching is unprecedented.
The terms of Rangers' 12-month registration embargo were finally confirmed by the SFA on July 20, giving McCoist approximately six weeks to repair a threadbare squad before the imposition of a ban on registering players between September 1, 2012, and the same date later this year. It was in those busy few weeks that Gattuso flirted with the idea of a return to Rangers before joining Sion. More absurdly, Savage took to Twitter to tout himself to McCoist and chief executive Charles Green. The hitch? Broadcasting commitments would mean he wouldn't be able to play on Saturdays. Thanks for your time, Robbie.
After the distractions of Gattuso and Savage, McCoist had to get on with the serious business of assembling a squad which would see Rangers through the third division. It is interesting that they are now running away with the championship despite so few of their nine summer signings making outstanding contributions. Ian Black has not been the influence Rangers hoped him to be, being eclipsed by two midfielders who were at the club already, Lewis Macleod and Kyle Hutton.
Dean Shiels has been erratic, sometimes illuminating Rangers' play but at other times making too little of an impression. Francisco Sandaza has been a disappointment even when allowing for the trauma he suffered in a serious facial injury which ruled him out for almost three months. He has scored once in 11 games. Against Annan Athletic on Wednesday, he missed a sitter.
Injuries have been a predictably prominent factor in Kevin Kyle's season, although three goals in his last four appearances would suggest he would score consistently if he were ever to enjoy a sustained period of fitness. Both Emilson Cribari and Anestis Argyriou have improved after dreadful early form but overall have given only an impression of mediocrity. Sebastian Faure has been ordinary and Francesco Stella almost invisible.
Seven of Rangers' eight most impressive players have been Lee McCulloch, Lee Wallace, Macleod, Andy Little, Barrie McKay, Neil Alexander and Hutton, all of whom remained when their former team-mates fled in droves over the summer. The most commendable newcomer? David Templeton, whose two goals at Annan in midweek took his total to 10 from the season in only 14 appearances. Templeton, like Sandaza, missed several weeks because of injury but that has not prevented him from making a major impression.
When asked how he had been able to settle quickly, Templeton praised his former team-mate at Hearts, Wallace. "Lee is fantastic, one of the best players I've ever played with," he said. "Any time I play on the left-side it's always great to have him behind me. If I get the ball I know he's going to make runs for me so he's helped me massively. He's brilliant going forward, he's so fit and boys can't track him. If you play him in, you know he's going to create something or get a chance for himself. He'll always get forward.
"I'm sure he could be a future Rangers captain. Lee [McCulloch] is a massive player for us and a great captain so hopefully he'll go on for a while, but when he's not there Lee Wallace will be there to take the captaincy and will do a good job."
Whoever leads Rangers is in charge of an unusual group: running away with the third division yet generally unremarkable and, McCoist must hope, capable of far more than they have shown so far.