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Rangers promoted: We look at their journey back to Premiership

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Mark Warburton is delighted to have won the Scottish Championship title

Rangers will play in Scotland’s top flight next year after they clinched the Championship league title, putting an end to four seasons in the lower leagues.

Mark Warburton's side got over the line at a sold-out Ibrox after a 1-0 win over Dumbarton earlier this month.

Here we take a look at the footballing journey the club has been on since they were last in the top tier.

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Four years after Rangers' demotion to Scotland's lowest league, here's a brief look at the Glasgow giants' return to the top tier of Scottish football.

2012/13 - The SFL Third Division

Rangers won the old Third Division by 24 points
Image: Captain Lee McCulloch lifts the old Scottish Third Division trophy

Rangers were refused entry to the then SPL by its member clubs in July 2012, but they were accepted by the SFL into its lowest league.

As they entered unknown territory, Rangers fans were anticipating trips to football grounds they had never been before.

The Division 3 campaign started with a trip to Peterhead.

Barrie McKay scored Rangers' first goal in Scotland's bottom tier but it took until injury time before Andy Little earned a point as they drew 2-2.

That day the potential pitfalls of strolling through the leagues were made plain to the 4,500 supporters that crammed in to Balmoor Stadium.

The first league match of the season at Ibrox saw an official attendance of 49,118; a world record for a fourth tier football match. The fans' expectations were met as an Andy Little hat-trick led to a 5-1 win against East Stirling.

Rangers believe people need to move on from their tax issues for the benefit of Scottish football
Image: Rangers fans continued to turn out at Ibrox despite playing in the bottom tier of Scottish football.

Uninspiring draws at Berwick Rangers and Annan Athletic followed in the weeks to come but the season was probably epitomised best by the 1-0 victory away to Queen's Park on 29th December 2012.

Around 30,000 Rangers fans shuffled into Hampden on a freezing winter's day and were greeted with a banal performance from an experienced side. It took a last-minute Fraser Aird strike to secure the three points despite playing against 10 men for the final third of the game.

A full-back by the name of Andrew Robertson started for part-time Queen's Park that day, an indication of how much has happened in the game since Rangers were playing at that level.

Fan frustrations at this point in the season were less about results (Rangers were 15 points clear at the top of the table) but more to do with the unconvincing performances from a squad that, on paper at least, possessed plenty of quality within its ranks.

Andrew Little (left) and Chris Hegarty hang their heads as the Inverness CT go 3-0 in front in League Cup.
Image: Andrew Little (left) and Chris Hegarty hang their heads as Inverness CT go 3-0 in front in League Cup

Ally McCoist's men had already been put out of the League Cup after a disappointing 3-0 home defeat to an in-form Inverness CT, they then lost in the Scottish Cup fifth round to Dundee United at Tannadice.

However, these types of defeat wouldn't be the most disappointing for the Rangers fans that season.

They were beaten at home twice, to Annan Athletic and Peterhead, in the space of six weeks towards the end of the campaign; not the kind of results a near full Ibrox would expect at any time against such opposition.

Rangers were always in control of the league though and went on to claim the Third Division title by 24 points, gaining promotion to what would be called League One after the merger between the SPL and SFL in the summer of 2013.

2013/14 - SPFL League One

Rangers were unbeaten in 2013/14, winning 102 points and scoring 106 goals.
Image: Rangers were unbeaten in the league in 2013/14, winning 102 points

Some unconvincing displays in 2012/13 perhaps meant Rangers didn't get as much credit for their forthcoming year's performances.

Captain Lee McCulloch helped lead Rangers to a record league campaign where they amassed 102 points and scored 106 goals in 36 matches.

Rangers' superior starting point played a huge part in this. Their budget eclipsed all other teams, bar Celtic, in Scotland. Adding to this significant advantage, the club's transfer embargo ended over the summer.

Ally McCoist splashed out on a number of seasoned professionals; Jon Daly, Nicky Clark, Nicky Law, Bilel Mohsni, Cammy Bell and the late Arnold Peralta were among those to arrive at Murray Park.

Some of Rangers signings summer of 2013: Nicky Clark, Richard Foster, Nicky Law, Stevie Smith, Arnold Peralta, Cammy Bell, Jon Daly and Bilel Mohsni
Image: Some of Rangers signings summer of 2013: (Left-right) Nicky Clark, Richard Foster, Nicky Law, Stevie Smith, Arnold Peralta, Cammy Bell, Jon Daly and Bilel

The additions to the squad certainly helped as Rangers were far more dominant and comfortable in the league that year despite stepping up a division.

An early exit in the League Cup to Forfar Athletic was far from the ideal start to the year but it wasn't until April that Rangers next lost a match in 90 minutes. That defeat came in the Scottish Cup semi-final, again to Dundee United.

The week before this semi-final defeat Rangers suffered an extra-time loss to Raith Rovers in the Scottish Challenge Cup final. Off-field problems were by now dominating Rangers' fans worries, but this defeat was among the lowest points for supporters during the club's lower league escapades.

Nevertheless Ally McCoist's main priority that season was achieved as he guided Rangers to a record breaking season unbeaten in the league. Stage two of the plan to take Rangers back to the Premiership had been achieved.

2014/15 - SPFL Championship 

Craig Levein, Ann Budge and Robbie Neilson of Hearts with the Championship trophy
Image: (left-right) Craig Levein, Ann Budge and Robbie Neilson of Hearts with the Championship trophy

The final part of Rangers' journey back to the top of Scottish football was made harder when two of the country's bigger clubs were relegated to the Championship.

Hearts' demotion was confirmed long in advance of the close of the 2013/14 season, as administration and a points deduction took hold.

But Hibernian's shock relegation through the play-offs meant three of Scotland biggest clubs were now competing for two promotion places.

Off-field controversies made this season difficult for everyone at Rangers. While no excuses were made for failing to gain promotion given their far loftier budget, these problems certainly played their part as they took their toll on the staff at the club. 

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson (left) celebrates with match winner Osman Sow at full time after his last minute winner against Rangers.
Image: Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson (left) celebrates with match winner Osman Sow after their 2-1 win at Ibrox.

The opening day of the Championship provided an almost perfect summary of the year ahead. On 10th of August 2014 Hearts came to Ibrox with youth, enthusiasm and desire, and consequently travelled back to Edinburgh with a deserved three points.

Within the Rangers side that played against Hearts, Lewis MacLeod was the only one not to have multiple Premiership campaigns under his belt. Many Rangers supporters were lamenting the lack of youth blooded throughout their exile from the top-flight. This feeling was amplified having seen what Hearts had done during their financial troubles.   

Another home defeat to Hibs the following month piled the pressure on McCoist and further weakened his status with the fans. Elimination from the Challenge Cup at the semi-final stage in December meant Rangers failed to win the lower league competition in their first three attempts.

Later that month McCoist tendered his resignation and triggered a 12-month notice period, but he was placed on gardening leave, with Hearts nine points clear having played a game more.

Despite a turbulent time at the helm of Rangers, McCoist will always be held in high regard by the majority of the blue half of Glasgow, largely for his feats as a player.

Rangers Manager Ally McCoist arrives at Palmerston Park on the day he tendered for his resignation from the club.
Image: Rangers Manager Ally McCoist arrives at Palmerston Park on the day he tendered for his resignation from the club

Many Rangers supporters understood the awkward position the club's all-time leading goal-scorer found himself in.

With chairmen and board members constantly absent from answering the difficult questions on Rangers' off-field problems, McCoist was left to cope with the pressure of being the spokesperson on everything and anything at Rangers.

He coped with it all admirably throughout his tenure, most of the time keeping his famous good humour and wit regardless of the stress he was under.

Yet as a coach he was sometimes found wanting, and in the end his departure came as a relief to all parties.

McCoist's number two Kenny McDowall stepped into the fray, and promptly lost 4-0 to Hibs in his first game in charge on 27th December. It was clear he did not envisage staying in the position in the long term.

Kenny McDowall lost his first match as Rangers caretaker manager.
Image: Kenny McDowall lost his first match as Rangers caretaker manager

A much anticipated return of the Old Firm came in early 2015 as they were drawn together in the League Cup semi-final.

It's not often you can call a derby match between Rangers and Celtic forgettable, but this tie certainly isn't one that will live long in the memory.

Celtic raced in to a 2-0 lead early on through goals from Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons in the first half. Rangers didn't manage a shot on target all afternoon as Celtic eased to victory.

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths scores in his club's previous meeting with Rangers
Image: Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths scores against Rangers in last season's League Cup semi-final

In January McDowall tendered his resignation and left the club, with Stuart McCall coming in to take charge until the end of the season. Hearts won the league at a canter, securing the title in late March. Rangers finished the season in a disappointing third behind both Edinburgh clubs, 24 points off champions Hearts.

But McCall managed to help orchestrate wins in the play-offs against Queen of the South and Hibs. His former team Motherwell awaited in the final for a place in the Scottish Premiership.

In a game that was a lot closer than the scoreline suggested, Rangers were 3-0 down at home after 47 minutes. Darren McGregor netted late on to give McCall hope going in to the second leg five days later but a far more comfortable 3-0 Motherwell win confined Rangers to at least one more season in the Championship.

The ignominy of this defeat was compounded by the ugly post-match scenes in which defender Bilel Mohsni ended up with a seven-match ban for an altercation with Motherwell's Lee Erwin.

2015/16 - SPFL Championship

Rangers appointed former Brentford management team Mark Warburton and David Weir at the start of the 2015/16 campaign.
Image: Rangers appointed Mark Warburton and David Weir at the start of 2015/16 season

In March 2015 former director Dave King and his allies had won control of the club at an Emergency General Meeting, removing the previous board from power.

Although he appointed Stuart McCall to his post until the end of the season it wasn't until the summer that King made any real changes.

The club released 11 of the first team players that had failed to win promotion the year before, with King openly criticising their performances and professionalism.

Former Brentford manager Mark Warburton and Rangers hero David Weir were appointed as the new managerial team at Ibrox, and they brought in a host of names many fans initially struggled to recognise.

Warburton's signings were to prove themselves at Championship level, showing consistency in both results and performance.

Such was the impact of Warburton's arrival that a song quickly emerged about the new manager being in the possession magic hat. He won his first 11 matches in charge, scoring 40 goals with an attractive brand of football that has been delighting the Rangers supporters all season.

Michael O'Halloran (left) is chased down by Rangers Rob Kiernan
Image: Former St Johnstone midfielder Michael O'Halloran (left) is chased down by Rangers' Rob Kiernan

A resounding 3-1 defeat to St Johnstone in the League Cup back in September gave Warburton's side a dose of reality and showed how far they still have to go. Future signing Michael O'Halloran ran Danny Wilson and Rob Kiernan ragged in a game Rangers didn't look like winning.

Even though Rangers were in imperious form in the league Hibs (and Falkirk) managed to keep tabs with the Ibrox club for a time. Hibs even drew level with Rangers in December but soon after the lead was stretched to insurmountable proportions.

A late equaliser for Raith Rovers may have delayed Rangers title party for a couple of days but Mark Warburton and his squad completed the club's journey to the top with a win against Dumbarton. 

In the meantime, Rangers 4-0 demolition of Dundee in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals set up a mouth-watering match against Celtic. This fixture promises to be more competitive than last year's League Cup equivalent.

Rangers players celebrate their third goal against Dundee
Image: Rangers players celebrate their third goal against Dundee in their Scottish Cup quarter-final win.

The victory over Premiership side Dundee in the fifth round just days after Paul Hartley's side held Celtic to a stalemate at Celtic Park is an indication of how much closer the sides will be matched.

European football awaits the winners of the Scottish Cup, and the most optimistic of Rangers fans will already be looking out their passports at least a year earlier than they expected.

Rangers going forward

(L/R) Stewart Robertson, Rangers manager Mark Warburton, chairman Dave King, vice-chairman Paul Murray and John Gilligan at the club's AGM
Image: (Left-right) Stewart Robertson, Rangers manager Mark Warburton, chairman Dave King, vice-chairman Paul Murray and John Gilligan at the club's AGM

A couple of major questions remain for the Rangers faithful going forward.

One of their biggest fears is the ability of Dave King to hold on to Mark Warburton and David Weir as their managerial set-up.

Warburton attracted many suitors even before his arrival at Rangers given the job he did at Brentford. No matter how consistent his rhetoric that he will be at Ibrox for at least the length of his contract, his name continues to be linked with vacancies in England.

The other subject that is high on supporter's minds is whether chairman King delivers on his promises of investing significant cash in the playing squad.

While Rangers have strolled to the league title, the amount of money spent of players since King's arrival in March has been minimal by traditional Rangers standards.

King will argue he has always said he would spend whatever was necessary to get Rangers promoted.

Yet the transfer fees paid thus far are not in the region of investment King has implied he would make at media conferences since his takeover. The coming months will determine if the outlay on players and wages will increase towards the level required to challenge for the Scottish Premiership title.

WATCH: The Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final between Rangers and Celtic on Sunday April 17th live on Sky Sports. 

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