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Lewis MacLeod, Rangers young journey man

Lewis Macleod was a symbolic figure for Rangers last season.

Lewis Macleod is the brightest prospect to have graduated from the Ibrox youth set-up in recent times but he knows talent alone will only take you so far Photograph: SNS
Lewis Macleod is the brightest prospect to have graduated from the Ibrox youth set-up in recent times but he knows talent alone will only take you so far Photograph: SNS

Supporters saw in his light, angular frame a source of optimism, a feeling that for all the pain the club had suffered and the long journey that lay ahead to climb back to the top flight, something worthwhile could emerge. As a young player with ability, consistency and a sense of perspective, Macleod embodied that hope.

He was a regular in central midfield as Rangers hauled themselves, at times awkwardly and falteringly, out of the bottom tier. He has retained his place in the starting line-up, albeit now out on the left of midfield to accommodate Nicky Law, and he is often the only product of Rangers' youth ranks to begin matches.

Macleod always looked to be the best prospect among the young players who stepped into the breach when senior squad members left and the club were restricted from signing experienced replacements. In some ways it is a measure of his achievement that he stands alone now.

Fraser Aird has impressed in recent matches, having broken back into the starting line-up on the right wing, while Robbie Crawford has mostly been used as a substitute, Barrie McKay has left for Morton on a one-month loan and the likes of Ross Perry, Chris Hegarty, Kyle Hutton and Andy Little have been injured for long spells of this season. Macleod remains, in talent and attitude, an example to follow.

"I use that saying - you're only as good as your last game - quite a lot," Macleod said. "I have been delighted to break into the first team and play so many games because I want to keep moving. I have been playing with more experienced players and it has made me a better player. At the same time, I know I have to keep focusing on what is right in front of me."

He has cause to be more conceited. As well as impressing for Rangers, Macleod has scored memorable goals, including an overhead kick against Ayr United and a volley for Scotland under-21s against Georgia that he describes as his "highlight of 2013", and been named at No 48 in the Don Balon list of the 101 best young players in the world.

"I heard about the Don Balon list and it was nice, but if you think about these things too much you can go off your game," Macleod said. "You only get there through working hard and it is important to remember to keep doing that.

"I want to stay in the Rangers team and get more goals, to keep progressing. There is the chance for us to go into the Championship in 2014-15 and that is a very exciting prospect. Before then, we have to complete this campaign and finish with as many wins as we can."

At 19, and only one year into a five-year contract with the Ibrox club, Macleod still has ground to travel. He is significant to Rangers, though, as the club seek a sustainable business plan.

Costs will need to be cut, and a football strategy established that combines youth development with shrewd transfer market moves that represent value for money. As a graduate of the Murray Park youth set-up, Macleod follows the likes of Barry Ferguson, Allan McGregor, Alan Hutton, Charlie Adam, Jamie Ness and Rhys McCabe, but also leads the way for others to follow. "There are a few good ones coming through and hopefully they will get the chance that I have had," he said.

Macleod has to live up to his own demands as well as those of the supporters, who expect Rangers to win every domestic match they play. The 1-1 draw with Stranraer at Ibrox last Thursday brought to an end the team's 100% league record, and the side was booed off by the home fans.

There is an immediate chance to atone, though, with tomorrow night's visit to East End Park. Rangers remain 11 points clear of Dunfermline at the top of League 1, and winning the title already seems assured, but individual and team performances will still be scrutinised.

"We will analyse the performance against Stranraer and will have to improve on what we did wrong," Macleod said. "Unfortunately, that is quite a lot of things, but on Monday night we should be 'at it' again. The demands of this club are so high. Now, we have to bounce back straight away."

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