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Elevation of company may help raise standard of performances

THE narrative around Rangers has been of inevitable annual progression through the leagues, of a club rising as naturally as steam.

Bilel Mohsni ranks the League 1 title win as one of the best achievements of his career. Picture: SNS
Bilel Mohsni ranks the League 1 title win as one of the best achievements of his career. Picture: SNS

The language has talked of "the journey", of "stage one", "stage two" and so on, with an unmissable certainty that they will not be mucking out the stables for a moment longer than the bare minimum required to secure three quickfire promotions.

A year ago what was then the Third Division title was secured on March 30. Two nights ago, on March 12, they wrapped up SPFL League 1. Eight more fixtures must be fulfilled in that competition but essentially Rangers have completed their league obligations against the bottom half of Scotland's senior clubs. Already they are favourites to complete a title hat trick by delivering the Championship at the end of next season too, yet for some time there has been a heightened degree of interest and anticipation about exactly how they will fare in that division.

Rangers have laboured in plenty of the league games this season, despite the superficial excellence of statistics which show 26 wins and two draws from 28 matches. They lost to Forfar Athletic in the League Cup and need a second attempt to dispose of Albion Rovers in the William Hill Scottish Cup on Monday. It is reasonable to suspect they will not be running in 26 league wins out of 28 when they are in the company of teams with more substantial resources than they have faced over the past two years.

They will be up against Hearts. It could be that two from Dundee, Hamilton Academical and Falkirk remain in the Championship next season. One from Partick Thistle, Ross County, St Mirren or Kilmarnock could drop into it too. Rangers are starting to get back among the sort of company they always used to keep.

For several months manager Ally McCoist has warned that summer investment will be required in the squad in order for it to comfortably exert authority in the second tier next season. After League 1 was won via the 3-0 defeat of Airdrieonians on Wednesday night there was also a players' perspective on the challenge ahead. The French centre-half, Bilel Mohsni, suggested that a higher standard of opponent might work to Rangers' advantage. Teams carrying a little more expectation would play a more open system against Rangers rather than simply sitting in and attempting to defend, said Mohsni. Rangers had struggled against stuffy, defensive sides but might enjoy more freedom against teams who are a little more adventurous against them.

"It feels fantastic to have won the league," he said. "I would say it ranks at the top of achievements in my career. We have won a trophy and that means a place in the history of Rangers. How confident am I that this squad can win the Championship next season? Very confident.

"In a way I think it will be easier playing against better players. Airdrie came to get forward and press us [manager Gary Bollan's formation was 4-4-2] and we scored three goals. When we play against a team which only defends it is harder. I don't think the teams in the Championship will be so afraid of us. Maybe they will come and play against us and, if they leave gaps, then we can score some goals.

"I don't know how difficult next season will be. I don't know if the manager is going to add some players or keep the same team. If the manager adds some players who can help us, it will be good. If he doesn't add any players then it will be good, too. I think we can play in the Scottish Premiership with the same team. But, as I said, I'm not the manager so I don't know what will happen.

"I think everyone was just looking forward to winning this title. I still think we can go very far in the Scottish Cup and win the Ramsdens Cup, too."

Rangers face Albion Rovers in the quarter-final replay at Hamilton on Monday night and Raith Rovers in the Ramsdens Cup final at Easter Road on April 6. It has been a campaign accompanied by consistent scrutiny and criticism of the often average quality of Rangers' play, though, from supporters and the media. "It would be nice to open the paper sometimes and see 'well done'," said Mohsni. "We can't play the best football and be at 100% in every game. If we did we would be a machine. Everyone would be a robot.

"This is football. We have won 26 of 28 games and drawn the other two. I think that's quite good, no?"

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