IT could be a case of one step back but two strides forward for Stephen Kelly after leaving Rangers for Ayr United. He is out of sight, but not out of mind at Ibrox.

As the midfielder was put through his paces in Portugal this summer, he knew himself that his chances of a spot in Steven Gerrard’s side were slim over the coming weeks and months.

Having proven his capabilities at Under-20s level, Kelly needed to showcase his talents in a more competitive environment this season if he was going to catch Gerrard’s eye in the long run.

Now he will spend the campaign in the Championship as Ian McCall’s side look for a repeat of their promotion challenge last term.

“We have got basically two teams now and a lot of players will be thinking they can start,” Kelly said. “That is the level of the squad and it has gone up.

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“You see midfielders coming in and you know you are not going to get the chance that they will get. So I think going on loan is probably the best thing for my development at this time.

“I spoke to the manager and he said that I had done the Reserve side of things so that is probably not going to benefit me as much this season.

“If he wanted to keep me here, he could have. But that wasn’t going to benefit my development and I wouldn’t have improved enough by this time next year because I wouldn’t have been getting the games. If I can go and get 25, 30, 40 games, that is going to make me better.

“When you are coming through, you need to do that Development League stage and you spend a year or so. I did two years. When you start to go into the third or fourth year of playing Reserves, I think you need to move on one way or another.”

The chance to remain at Rangers and work alongside boss Gerrard every day would have been an appealing one for Kelly. It wasn’t the right option, though.

The 19-year-old has emerged as one of the most highly-rated up-and-coming talents within the youth ranks at the Hummel Training Centre in recent seasons.

And he hopes his time with the Honest Men will allow him to make the improvements required to take that next step on his return to Ibrox.

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Kelly said “It was the manager's decision to advise the loan and he just wants me to go and get the games and to contribute with goals and assists. I want to be the best player in training every day and we will see where I am when I come back next year.

“When you are there and you are building and you feel you are close, it can get frustrating. But I am going to go and get games and that is the best thing for me at this stage.

“You get close and you are training with guys like Steven Davis, but you know he has played hundreds of games and been in the Premier League so he has that experience you don’t.

“You can’t get that unless you go and play. Training with them is one thing, but it is about the experience of playing that you need and hopefully I will get that this season.

“When I was growing up, Steven was playing here and then I watched him at Southampton as well. He is a great guy for me to work with and learn from.”

Kelly was a key part of the 20s side that lifted the Development League and Youth Cup under the guidance of Graeme Murty last season.

He is skilful yet combative in the middle of the park and has an eye for goal as well. His diminutive frame means he is not ready for Premiership football, but the next few months will allow him to grow and develop further on and off the park.

Kelly said: “That is what I always hear so it will be good to get those tests and show that I can handle that. Over the last six months, I have worked a lot with the Sports Scientist team and that has brought me on a lot heading into pre-season.

“In terms of actually playing, it was always going to be hard to get in. It might not look like it has brought me on a lot, but I feel it has.

“You get pressure from winning games and I am going to a team environment where it is more real, if you like. That will benefit me as well.

“It is wee things that you will pick up in terms of being more prepared for first team football. It is a different experience.

“The first few games have been good and I am enjoying it. We are a good team and it will be good to be in the Championship. It is a long season and hopefully we can do well.”

*Rangers Academy midfielder Stephen Kelly is pictured promoting the Rangers Youth Development Company.

Since 2002, RYDC profits have been directed to Rangers Football Club’s youth programme - with almost £8 million provided so far.

For full details on RYDC’s growing portfolio of products – the re-launched Rangers Pools, Rangers Lotto, the new-look half-time draw The Union Jackpot, Scratchcards, Stadium Bricks and the Youth Members Club - visit www.rydc.co.uk or call 0141 427 4914.