Rangers manager Ally McCoist has told winger David Templeton that it is time for him to finally deliver on his potential.
McCoist paid Hearts £700,000 for the 25-year-old two years ago in order that he could help them win the old Third Division.
Templeton, who had scored for Hearts in their 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield in a Europa League play-off match less than 24 hours before his move to Ibrox, has much to prove as he prepares to face his old club tomorrow afternoon.
He scored 16 goals against the part-timers in the fourth tier but managed only three from 20 appearances in League 1.
Templeton showed glimpses of his natural ability when he came off the bench to inspire Rangers to a 2-1 victory over Hibernian in the Petrofac Training Cup in midweek but McCoist is looking for more from him.
“I think he’s got to be a big player for us this year,” he said. “We all know the talent he’s got, he’s got gifts that probably no one else in the division has. But the only person that can bring them out is David. It’s a big year for him and he’s hoping for big things, as are we of him.”
McCoist concedes that Templeton’s progress has been hampered by ankle ligament damage and a groin problem, which reduced both his effectiveness and his availability.
“You’ve got to cut him some slack with the injuries,” he said. “It goes all the way back to Annan a couple of seasons ago right at the start of his career here, so I wouldn’t be overly critical of him because he’s definitely had problems which are outwith his control.
“But all we can hope for, David included, is a clean bill of health and an opportunity for him to play and express himself. Because when he plays and is on form, he’d be in most teams.”
It was Templeton who drew the foul from Danny Handling which resulted in the Hibs man being dismissed on Tuesday but McCoist insists it was the arrival of the winger, rather than the red card, which led to Rangers prevailing.
“In the press conference after the game, the boys were saying the sending-off changed the game, which is not true. The introduction of David Templeton changed the game – that’s exactly what happened and he deserves all the credit for that.
“At times he looked unplayable on Tuesday – he was going past boys as if they weren’t there. He causes people to foul him and give away free kicks in dangerous areas and pick up cards, as we saw. For the period he was on, he was excellent.”
McCoist has no doubt that Templeton will be inspired to exhibit the full range of his skills against Robbie Neilson’s side.
“You’d hope so, along with Ian Black and Lee Wallace,” he said. “We’re really, really looking forward to it.
“Tuesday was a great start in terms of the result but Hibs were very good for a spell in the second half when we weren’t that clever at all and didn’t have the ball. But the results in cup ties are always the most important thing and it sets us up nicely for Sunday.”
After romping through the two lower leagues, McCoist is girding his loins for a more searching examination of his side’s credentials in the Championship.
He has been criticised by sections of his own support for the lack of entertainment on offer but he has delivered in a results-driven business and is genuinely enthusiastic about the prospect of facing more familiar rivals in the nine months to come.
“It’s a great game to start with but it’s actually a great month for us,” he said. “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 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 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.
“The whole thing, with Hearts coming for the opening of the Sandy Jardine Stand, makes it special.”
McCoist certainly expects Hearts to come to Govan with the intention of taking all three points.
“I saw Hearts a good few times last season,” he said. “I saw them against Dundee United and against St Mirren in Paisley. They were definitely better at the end of the season than they were at the start. 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 both know our club pretty well, which 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.”
Rangers have no injury worries but defender Bilel Mohsni completes a two-game suspension.