By Alex Stevens

Rangers academy chief Craig Mulholland has tipped teenage duo Ross McCrorie and Ryan Hardie to come into the first-team reckoning following their loan spells.

McCrorie, 18, was a member of the promotion-winning Ayr team while Hardie, 19, scored a goal every other game during a fine spell at Raith Rovers.

Mulholland is convinced their first-team experience was far more valuable than being members of Rangers’ development squad, and will benefit the Ibrox senior side in the future.

This comes after the Rangers youth team finished the recently completed domestic season in the lower half of the development league.

But Mulholland insists that didn’t worry anyone at the club because creating individuals who can impact the first-team in the coming years is more of a priority than winning youth titles.

“That is a big step for us because people are used to seeing Rangers up there and had we kept Andy Murdoch, Ross McCrorie, Jordan Thompson, Ryan Hardie etc. then there is no doubt we would have competed for the league,” Mulholland told the official Rangers website.

“We might have won the league but would it benefit the players? Probably not.

“I look at Ross McCrorie who went on loan to Ayr United and got promoted, you look at Ryan Hardie who scored six goals in 12 games at Raith Rovers and those experiences make them much better equipped players to come back and play in our first-team.

“I just spent time down at Southampton with Stewart Robertson and Andrew Dickson and they finished second bottom of the Under-18 Premier League and nobody cares because they are producing players for their first-time.

“Their best ones are out on loan and they play their young ones up an age group.”

Mulholland has made it clear that the only goal of the Rangers academy is to develop players for the first team.

“I hope one of the things we have achieved this year is educating the staff, the players and the wider fan base to say that doesn’t matter and what matters is who goes on to play for Rangers,” he told the club’s website.

“It is getting that balance because we don’t want them to ever stop going out to win games.

“The decisions we take should be for the player’s development rather than winning football matches. The only team which needs to win at this football club is the first-team.”

In other Rangers news, the club face competition for a £5million striker target this summer.