ONLY three years ago, Inih Effiong was spending match-days staring at prison cell walls. Today, he could face Rangers.

The Londoner’s chaotic early life of childhood gangs, knife-culture and the grisly murder of a family friend segued into an adulthood of criminal acquaintances and repeated brushes with the law.

It all reached rock bottom in 2015 while banging in goals for Biggleswade Town in England’s Southern Premier League.

Caught up in a drugs bust, Effiong, who still protests innocence, was given three months in jail.

All the youthful promise and early talk of an English Premier League future counted for nothing, even with reduced charges, as previous convictions came home to roost.

Watching Football Focus one day behind bars, with a girlfriend now heavily pregnant, it hit the then 23-year-old hard between the eyes: change now or lose it all.

The road to redemption began with the arrival of baby son Reuben and has now led to Ross County.

Effiong, after a surprise call from Owen Coyle, is a man on a mission to make up for lost time.

During prolific spells at no fewer than 14 non-league clubs in and around Conference level, few at his clubs knew the part-timer was dabbling in some of the British capital’s darkest corners.

He intends to make it a permanent rebirth, professing to have found God. Swapping grim north-west London streets for the picturesque Scottish Highlands and a date with Rangers just about sums up the transformation.

Opening up on his past yesterday, it was hard to reconcile the likeable, soft-spoken striker with the grim, menacing past he revealed. The estate where he spent his childhood – Stonebridge Park – was reported in 2015 as having the highest level of gun crime in London.

Effiong, who is a 6ft 4ins powerhouse, says: “I grew up in a place called Stonebridge in north-west London. It’s pretty rough. We moved out of there because there was a situation where one of my mum’s friends’ sons, who I knew, was murdered. She knew she had to get us out of there. My older brother was on the streets as well, not doing the best of things. It was a high-profile case. An ex-footballer was convicted of the murder, but not until years and years later.

“The past three years has been me knuckling down. My whole life has just been crazy with getting involved in police and things like that. I’ve had to strip it all back, and having my son has been a big factor in me concentrating and working hard for him. I had to change.

“The lowest point of my life came about three years ago, when I actually spent time in jail for something that was nothing to do with me, just the people I was hanging about with. I eventually got let out after three months, and then I had a trial to see if I was guilty or not guilty. I went to court and the jury couldn’t figure out if I was guilty or not – it was a hung jury. In the end I was convicted, but it wasn’t for what they originally wanted.

“It was a situation with friends, where there was drugs in my car but it was nothing to do with me – there were no fingerprints or anything like that. I was driving and the police were behind me, they pulled me over and saw what was there. They put me in jail straight away because I had previous, so they automatically thought it was me. I was put in jail straight away but I got my solicitor to get me out three months later.

“I was sitting inside thinking about how my life had changed, and I think that’s when it hit me: I needed to get out of the situation I was in. I just needed to get away from the people who had caused it and start afresh. I’m a religious man and I pray a lot, and I prayed when I was in there. God delivered me from that situation.

“But that was the lowest point. I was sitting inside watching Football Focus on a Saturday thinking ‘what has it come to?’ I was getting locked up and sent to bed at 5pm, when the games had only just finished. Earlier in my life, I had been seen as a young player with a bright future, a lot of clubs were watching. After that I just stripped everything back. The judge saw that while I was out of jail, on a tag, I was doing things to change my life. I was making better steps, so he told me it was my last chance. If he saw me again, he told me he would send me down for about four years.”

Whatever else he might feel about facing Rangers, it is fair to say Effiong won’t be physically intimidated.

He said: “It was a scary experience being in prison although I can look after myself, so I was all right. But I remember thinking only a week previous I had been playing football with Biggleswade Town. I’ve got to give them big thanks because, when I came out after three months, they still took me back. Without that, I wouldn’t be here today.”

With Biggleswade, while working for a mobile phone company in sales, Effiong earned his first full-time move to Barrow in the Conference last year. Then Owen Coyle came calling this month with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

He said: “I knew a couple of weeks before I signed Ross County were really interested, along with a couple of English league clubs. But I picked Ross County because it was the Scottish Premiership and I might not get the opportunity to do this again.

“Also, Owen Coyle is such a well-known Premier League manager in England. Him saying ‘listen, I really want you’ was a really big attraction. Throughout my whole career, I had been hanging around with people I shouldn’t have. Only in the past three years, have I solely focused on football. I’m 26 now, so it is a bit later than I wanted but I’m here – and I want to grasp the opportunity. It is a long way from my family but I am doing it for my little boy. It is tough being away from him, but the rewards will be great if I take the opportunity.”

Manager Coyle has added Effiong and former Liverpool and PSG striker David Ngog to his strikeforce. Both could start against Rangers.

Coyle said: “We’re back at home. Six of our last nine have been away, so it is nice to be facing Rangers in Dingwall. If we can perform as we did in the last two games, in respect of the first half Kilmarnock and the second half against St Johnstone, then we have a good opportunity to win the game.

“We have to bring it all together. Some of what has gone against us has been incredible, some self-inflicted. We have shown, when at our best, we can stand toe-to-toe with all of the best teams. David Ngog made a good impression at Kilmarnock and there is always that temptation to start him because he is a wonderful player.

“He was the best player on the field in the second half when he came on, showing real quality. But we have to do the right thing both for David and the team. We’ll have to look at it but he is certainly in our thoughts for Sunday.”