RANGERS captain Lee McCulloch says he is happy to take a backward step this season in order to retain his first-team place.
McCulloch was the Ibrox club’s leading scorer with 26 goals as they won the Third Division title last season, a campaign when the limitations of Rangers’ squad saw him deployed in a variety of positions.
The summer arrivals of strikers Jon Daly and Nicky Law mean McCulloch is now more likely to be considered for a central defensive berth when manager Ally McCoist has all of his players available for selection.
“I thought about that during the close season,” admitted McCulloch. “With the manager being able to bring in players, something he wasn’t able to do for a wee while, he has had to strengthen every position.
“I’m 35 now and I can’t be running about moaning about playing in this position or that position. I’m just happy to be getting a game and I know as well as anyone if my performances dip then I’ll be out of the team just like anyone else and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
After missing the opening League One fixture of the season because of suspension, McCulloch helped Rangers to a 3-0 win against Stranraer at Stair Park last Saturday.
Having been part of the side which dropped nine points from their first four away games in the Third Division last season, the veteran believes that Rangers have now adapted better to life on the road in the lower tiers of Scottish football as they look to pick up another three points against Airdrieonians at the Excelsior Stadium tonight.
“To get the first away win in the league right away was good, compared to the start we had last season,” said McCulloch. “So that’s a wee bit of a monkey off our backs. We can just go and enjoy away games now and hopefully start picking up points earlier than we did last season. It’s important we put a marker down for the other teams in the league that we’re out to play and score goals.
“I think the football in League One is pretty similar in terms of the teams we have come up against so far. It’s been much of a muchness. On Saturday I think we won the game convincingly because we started the game so well and I think that’s something we need to do in away games particularly. But I don’t see a big gulf between the division we were in last year and the one we are in now.”
Asked if motivation would be a problem for the Rangers players now that the novelty of their dramatically changed circumstances has worn off, McCulloch insisted the club’s summer signing activity has avoided any sense of drudgery. “I think it would have been [a bit of a drudge] if we weren’t allowed to bring any players in,” he said. “But with the players we have brought in, it has given everyone a freshness and everyone is looking over their shoulder.
“Even if you are in the team or if you are not in the team, everyone is working just as hard. Our squad is pretty big and that can only be good for the manager and coaching staff that you know you need to perform every week or you will be out of the team no matter who you are.
“The younger lads are going to have to try even harder to make an impact this season, just like every other player who was here last year. In some of the games last season that we maybe didn’t play well in, when we didn’t pass the ball and people were getting frustrated, I think that experience could be a good thing for the younger lads because they are going to be wiser and they are going to know what not to do this year instead of just going in blind last year.
“Nicky Law has come in and been brilliant already this season. I’d played against him a good few times, but I didn’t realise what a quality player he is until training with him every day. Since he’s come in, he’s been making our team tick.
“We need to raise the bar again and after the January window there could be more players coming in. It’s a tough school at this club even though we’re in the league we’re in. I suppose that’s the way it has always been. You expect to have competition for places with such a big squad.”
McCulloch, meanwhile, lent his backing to midfielder Ian Black who is set to retain his place in the Rangers side tonight despite being charged by the SFA for breaching their rule on gambling. “Ian is one of the boys, always will be,” said McCulloch. “I honestly don’t know if it will [knock his confidence] but it’s been business as usual in training this week.
“He took a bit of stick last season and that was over the top. If anyone had to get stick, it should have been levelled at the whole team, rather than singling people out. This season he has been fitter and sharper. You can tell he has a wee bit about him. He’s got his confidence back.”
Home manager Jimmy Boyle is looking forward to tonight’s fixture. “This is a massive game for the club and for the town and it feels like the type of game that I was involved in as a player with Airdrieonians,” he said.
“Hopefully we can put up a good performance as Rangers have been strong in the league so far this season. We brought in big players during the summer in Lewis Coult and Jim Lister and this is a big night for them.”