THE warmth of summer seems to have brought Nicky Law back to Ibrox with a decidedly sunnier disposition.

Confronted by the shortcomings in his Rangers side at the end of last season, the shaven-headed midfielder, left mentally and physically exhausted by his first campaign in light blue, resorted to four-letter language and revealed a most intense desire to get as far away from anyone with Ibrox allegiances as possible.

"I hope there are no Rangers fans there to tell me we're s***," he said ahead of his planned breaks in Egypt and Italy. "It's tough being told you're s*** for six months."

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There are no guarantees the next nine months will be an awful lot better. The difference is that Law appears to have benefited from both his holiday and the draining experience of his debut year at Rangers, and returned with a healthier approach to handling expectations.

Following a promising opening half-hour, Ally McCoist's side had to cling on by their fingernails during lengthy stages of their first competitive match of the season at home to Hibernian on Tuesday night.

Were it not for two dreadful misses from Farid El Alagui and a somewhat controversial red card for Danny Handling, chances are the visitors would have won in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup before Law popped up to make it 2-1 11 minutes into extra-time to set up a meeting with Clyde and a certain Barry Ferguson.

Law was happy to have his team's weaknesses opened up for debate this time round, though.

McCoist spelled out, in no uncertain terms, after the final whistle that the game had shown just how competitive the SPFL Championship is likely to be and that things must improve. In Law's frame of mind, such demands for higher standards are seen as a welcome clarion call.

"If we needed telling, that [game] was it," said the 26-year-old English midfielder. "The manager said that. We know it's going to be a lot tougher than last season. Hibs put their system on the game more than we did. For 25 minutes in the second half we couldn't get near them. We were relieved to get through. There are definitely things to work on.

"It's going to be an exciting league. Hibs were good and passed the ball around well. They've got a new system, 4-2-3-1 and it worked well for them. They've got dangerous young players who showed up well too.

"It gets the juices going again. It's proper football. From the first day, it's serious times for us. Last year, we could take the foot off the pedal as the league was over. It was hard to give 100% every game, but the Hibs match was a real eye-opener to how difficult it will be this season.

"We need to improve, but we will."

Rangers got off to an ideal start against Hibs, Lewis Macleod finding the net on 14 minutes, but gradually lost their way with a new set-up built on a three-man defence, and eventually had to return to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation during the second half, as David Templeton replaced Darren McGregor.

"It's tough to say why we dropped off after going ahead," said Law. "We had a new formation, 3-5-2, and we've worked on that in closed-door games.

"The first half, it worked all right, but then their system dominated ours for that 25 minutes or so and we had to change it. It's going to take time if that's the way we are going to go. It's going to take work if we are to persist with that system."

Hearts should provide a stern test of McCoist's methodology at Ibrox in the first game of the league season.

"It's going to be just as tough as Hibs, if not tougher," said Law. "Having Hibs, Hearts and then Falkirk is the ideal start. A lot of people will see those teams as the four frontrunners for promotion, but there's no better way to start the season by putting down a marker. We want to show those three teams we mean business, that we want to come top by the end of the season."

Templeton furthered his claims for a starting place against his former club with his display against Hibs. He has, generally, been a disappointment since arriving from Tynecastle in a deal estimated to be worth around £700,000 two years ago and faces a big season in which he must seek to become an established first-team player.

"David changed the game on his own by committing people, being positive, and he got three of their lads booked and one sent off," said Law. "He's had a lot of injuries and he's not been able to get going, but I hope he will this season."

Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller are also regarded as matchwinners, but the midweek visit of Hibs proved that two men do not make a team. Miller's influence faded as the match progressed while Boyd, although having a goal disallowed after being adjudged to have handled the ball, was surprisingly quiet.

"Boydy had a few chances that he would normally put away," said Law. "Give Boydy a sniff and he will score. Kenny Miller is the same. He did a lot good work for us outside the box. He probably wants to be in the box scoring goals, but he had to do that. I've no doubt the pair of them will be up at the top of the scoring charts by the end of the season."