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Last leg of the journey takes Rangers into familiar territory

Rangers have reached the last leg of 'the journey'.

Ally McCoist is aware that his Rangers players will face a challenge to win the Championship title this season. Picture: SNS
Ally McCoist is aware that his Rangers players will face a challenge to win the Championship title this season. Picture: SNS

Having come as far as the SPFL Championship after winning successive league titles, the Ibrox side are within reach of a place in the top flight. The new league campaign begins tomorrow for them, with two old foes the most likely to disturb Rangers' progress.

Hearts and Hibernian also find themselves in Scotland's second tier for very different reasons but the Edinburgh clubs share the same an ambition - to ensure they are not still in the division next season. Rangers have seen off a challenge from the green half of the capital already - they triumphed over Hibs in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup - and will meet Hearts for the first time this season tomorrow afternoon.

It offers an opportunity for one of the clubs to draw first blood in the title race. "We've come through the two divisions comfortably and it's been one heck of an adventure," said Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager. "But what we're aiming to do is get back to the top flight. Let's be honest, we didn't expect to be playing Hearts or Hibs in the Championship. But those games have added spice, if you like.

"Playing Hearts and Hibs at Tynecastle and Easter Road - and them coming to Glasgow - have always been big games. Hibs had a terrific support when they played us on Tuesday and they were very vocal.

"Hearts fans will be the same having sold out their allocation [for tomorrow's visit to Ibrox]. It's just small things like that which shows we're heading in the right direction.

"We're not back, we have hurdles to overcome, but these are hurdles we're facing sooner than we imagined. Hearts and Hibs will have a feel-good factor about them."

Having visited venues from Annan to Peterhead on their long, winding road towards the top flight, the Championship will allow Rangers to get reacquainted with familiar surroundings this season. The level of competition will rise once again but the silverware is still expected to be in the Ibrox trophy room this time next year.

McCoist is taking nothing for granted as old rivalries are resumed once again, however. "It's a great game to start with," he said. "It's actually a great month for us. I had a wee look at the fixture list the other day and it's exciting.

"We had Hibs last week and now Hearts - still two of the biggest clubs in the country - and then after that we have Falkirk. The one thing that Tuesday night hit home to everybody was just how difficult it's going to be. It's going to be a great league.

"I watched Hibs a few times last season and for 20 minutes of the second half against us that was as good as I'd seen them. They have a complete freshness and newness about them with the new manager [Alan Stubbs] and the new set-up.

"Hearts will be the exact same and teams like Falkirk, Queen of the South and Dumbarton will thrive on the three of us being in the league. I think it's going to be a smashing league and we're really looking forward to the first game."

In the three years since Rangers last did battle with Hearts and Hibs, all have experienced significant lows. The badges on the front of the shirts are the same but the names on the back and the quality of those players wearing them have changed quite dramatically.

However, McCoist is aware of just how big an occasion will be at Ibrox tomorrow as Lee Wallace, Ian Black and David Templeton all line up against their former club Hearts, while Neil Alexander and Danny Wilson will make their returns to the Glasgow club. Alexander made his return to Scotland by joining Hearts earlier in the summer.

"Hearts were definitely better at the end of the season than they were at the start," McCoist added. "The pressure was maybe off them a little bit so I fully expect us to be facing a Hearts team like that. They have brought some good players in too who have played at the top level in Scotland before.

"They have stability in Danny Wilson and Neil Alexander who know our club pretty well. Add it in, it makes it really interesting. It's a great game for us to start with but it's also a great game for them to start with."

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