Kyle McAusland’s season began with a bit of a tease. During the opening weeks of the season, the 21 year old defender got to take his spot in the Rangers lineup four times (three as a starter at right back). The appearances weren’t so much an audition but more of a place holder as Richard Foster waited in the wings. No matter how well McAusland played, Foster’s inherent claim on the position was supposed to be a forgone conclusion.
McAusland did perform well, flashing his potential as he played with the composure of a veteran & left fans wanting more as he charged up the right flank – showing signs of a double edged attack from the full backs that would leave opponents heads spinning. But he wasn’t good enough to delay the inevitable. Ironically, Sebastien Faure was. Faure performed so well in that first month of the season, that Ally McCoist moved Faure into the right back position & delayed the entrance of Foster for a week or two.
Were the hopeful views of McAusland clouded by the promise of youth? It’s happened before & will happen again.
Meanwhile, McAusland was growing restless & sought out McCoist’s advice on what he needed to do in order to compete for a spot in the starting eleven. McCoist’s response was to suggest that the youngster leave the club on loan in order to get regular playing time.
The debate over the merits of shipping out a 21 year old with promise over the unpopular Foster is old news & will not be rehashed here.
So, how did McAusland do on his loan with Ayr United? Why did he struggle to secure a consistent starting spot for the League One side?
Alistair Gemmell, a blogger who covers Ayr United, provided Rangers Report with some insight on McAusland’s season which included 17 appearances this season – 12 as a starter & five as a substitute – along with six other occasions as an unused sub.
“After starting at centre-back when he joined on loan in October, playing four games (missing one through suspension after a stupid red card at Airdrie) he moved to right-back and played five games in that position before returning to Rangers. He contributed to us keeping five clean sheets in nine starts.”
“When he re-joined in March he was sent-off in his first game (a second red of the season at Airdrie, and Ayr were already down to 10 men) and from that point on the manager appeared to lose faith in him.”
“His appearances were mainly restricted to coming off the bench, although he started both play-off games against Cowdenbeath at centre-back. Altogether, its been a stop-start season for him, starting at Rangers, two spells at Ayr, suspensions, inelligibility, so he maybe hasn’t been able to get a run of games to judge him fairly but he hasn’t ever been a stand out performer for us.”
When McAusland returned to Ayr United, manager Mark Roberts – immediately slotted him as an injury replacement in the center of defense. Roberts claimed that this is McAusland’s strongest position.
Via the club’s official website Roberts said, “He will play centre back as I think it is his best position. He played a couple of games in the centre of defence last season and on one occasion did really well against John Gemmell at Stenhousemuir.”
“He’s quick, strong, aggressive, good in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet. He’s got everything you want as a centre back.”
McAusland’s play was inconsistent as he yet again showed signs of his potential but also had much to work on to become a more complete player.
“He’s a good athlete, fairly strong (this is probably a product of full-time training) and gets well forward from the right-back position, contributing a couple of assists,” explained Gemmell.
Gerry Ferrara, author of One Honest Man, Four Different Perspectives: Forty-five years as an Ayr United Fan added, “He has ability on the ball and is quite athletic. When he was focused, he turned in some excellent performances but his inconsistency was a worry. If anything, he was more effective when he arrived at the club and as time passed he looked less motivated.”
Motivation was a complaint of Barrie McKay’s loan stint at Morton as well. One of the risks of loaning out young players is how they approach the situation. Do they look at it as an opportunity to prove themselves on the pitch, or do they begin to develop a sense of apathy as they are plying their trade away from Ibrox? Also, given Rangers lack of a scouting system – is anyone actually following the youngsters progress outside of chats with the manager?
Both Gemmell & Ferrara agreed that there are areas of McAusland’s game that needs improving.
Gemmell stated, “Defensively, he isn’t particularly strong. He started as a striker with Ayr United’s Academy before joining Rangers who converted him to a defender and he isn’t a natural in that position. In the Cowdenbeath games he struggled badly with the strike duo of ex-Ranger Kane Hemmings and Dundee-bound Greg Stewart. He really should have done better at least two of the goals.”
Ferrara – who has been embedded with the team while working on a book detailing Ayr’s season elaborated, “Concentration and decision making could both improve but experience should help with that. At times he was criticised for being pulled out of position and carrying out instructions literally, instead of adapting to the situation.”
The assessment of Kyle McAusland’s stint at Ayr United is consistent many young defenders. There are strengths to his game that create a belief in his potential. Simultaneously, he has plenty of room to grow & learn as a defensive player.
However, how patient will Rangers be next season? Are they willing to rely on a young defender who is still growing into his capabilities? If Ally McCoist wasn’t ready to play McAusland in League One – does McAusland stand a chance in the Championship? Is McAusland even good enough to have a future a the club beyond the reserves?
Ferrera believes there is hope for McAusland – but it may not be with Rangers next season. “I don’t think he is ready for the step up to the Championship or with the Rangers first team but with the right guidance, the potential is there.”
Gemmell’s assessment is less optimistic. “ I very much doubt McAusland will feature in the Rangers first team at all next season. Regardless of Ally McCoist’s reticence to play young players, he just isn’t good enough.”
McAusland is under contract with Rangers through the 2014-15 season.