Pedro Caixinha insists he will have no qualms about handing Ryan Hardie further opportunities to stake his claim for a place in the Rangers front line this season.
The 20-year-old was drafted into Caixinha’s first-team squad last weekend when an injury sustained in training ruled high-profile summer signing Eduardo Herrera out of the Premiership fixture against Hearts at Ibrox.
Hardie, who scored 11 goals in the Championship last season during loan spells at St Mirren and Raith Rovers, appeared as a substitute for the final 20 minutes and was unfortunate to see a late effort deflected just off target in the 0-0 draw against the Gorgie side.
While Mexican international Herrera, fellow new recruit Alfredo Morelos and veteran Kenny Miller lead Caixinha’s list of striking options, he believes both Hardie and 17-year-old Zak Rudden will have roles to play for the first team in the coming weeks and months.
“He [Hardie] is an option for us after Martyn [Waghorn] left the club, so we have Kenny, we have Alfredo, we have Eduardo and Ryan and Zak [Rudden] can be options for us if a situation like this happens,” said Caixinha, pictured.
“We have no problem at all to place him on the pitch. With 20 minutes of the game left we felt that the team was putting Hearts against the ropes and we were needing more presence in the box. So we changed it.
“We placed Ryan alongside Alfredo, with Kenny also down the left but coming inside to be like the third striker, to have that presence. He had two chances and almost scored one goal.”
Hardie, a Scotland under-21 international who was part of the national squad which finished third at this year’s prestigious Toulon Tournament, made his initial first-team breakthrough at Rangers three years ago when he scored two goals in six appearances during the 2014-15 season.
Caixinha revealed that it was a recommendation from Ibrox club doctor, Paul Jackson, which first alerted him to Hardie’s potential.
“I met Ryan when we arrived last season later on when he came from the loan process,” Caixinha told Rangers TV. “I was told by our doctor, who likes him a lot, that he was a goalscorer, he is definitely a goalscorer, and when he has a chance he scores.
“Unfortunately he had one-and-a-half chances [on Saturday] and he almost scored but he didn’t score in the game.”
As Rangers seek to improve the success rate of their academy in delivering players for the first-team squad, Caixinha has already involved several under-20s since taking charge in March with Myles Beerman, David Bates, Jamie Barjonas, Aidan Wilson and Kyle Bradley all featuring under the Portuguese coach at the end of last season.
Striker Rudden, a highly regarded member of the Scotland under-17 squad which reached the European Championship finals in Croatia earlier this year, may be next in line for a first-team debut under Caixinha.
“Last season we used a lot of players from the youth system and this season we are already using it, so that means of course that we use it if we have the need and we will use it if they have the quality to perform with us,” added Caixinha. “It’s always important to look at what we have inside the club.”
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