ALLY McCoist heaped praise on his Rangers players for wrapping up the SPFL League 1 title with eight games to spare last night then gave them permission to make the most of their celebrations.

A 3-0 defeat of Airdrieonians at Ibrox delivered Rangers' 26th victory in 28 unbeaten games, putting them an uncatchable 26 points clear of second-place Dunfermline Athletic and securing promotion to the Championship. The players celebrated with a lap of honour and McCoist was conspicuously enthusiastic as he waved and pumped his fists to the supporters.

The Rangers manager had been heavily criticised after the weekend Scottish Cup draw with Albion Rovers but Rangers delivered a far more convincing display as captain Lee McCulloch scored a first-half hat trick which included two early penalties.

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"Winning things is a wonderful feeling, no matter what it is and where it is," said McCoist. "These are all championships that we have to win to get back to where we want to be, in the top flight. These are stages in our recovery which must be met. It is only fair that they should be celebrated and enjoyed like you would with any league. There are lots of boys in there winning their first league and good on them for doing that. They are well within their rights to really enjoy it and we will make sure they do.

"Planning for the Championship starts now. The Championship could and hopefully will be a great league next year, with some of the teams that will be in it. We are planning for that and hopefully we can look forward to it and strengthen. The focus straight away is on the game against Dunfermline at the weekend and then we have a game in the Scottish Cup [the quarter-final replay with Albion Rovers] which gives us an opportunity for a home tie against Dundee United. We will enjoy tonight, but the season is far from over for us.

"The players deserve an enormous amount of credit. It's certainly an achievement to win the title. It's one we set out to do and needed to do, as part of the journey back. Twenty-six wins and two draws in 28 games: that's a good achievement. You have to say Dunfermline have done well because with statistics like that we might even have won it earlier.

"We're thrilled for the players, the staff and the supporters. It's been a terrific league campaign and I thought we finished it well tonight. We created a lot of pressure and played a lot of good football. From that aspect it was really pleasing.

"McCulloch in particular has epitomised the spirit within the club we've required at the beginning of the journey back. I'm thrilled for him. For the captain to score a hat trick from centre-half in the winning game is Roy of the Rovers stuff."