As Rangers kicked off pre-season with a 1-0 win over Partick Thistle, more than a few youngsters got their chance to impress.
The Ibrox side started with an unfamiliar XI as the club gave opportunities to a host of young first-teamers on the fringes of the first-team squad.
But as half-time saw the introduction of a familiar selection of players, it was one Ibrox Academy youngster who came on alongside them who grabbed the plaudits of Rangers fans.
Midfielder Stephen Kelly, 21, is back at Ibrox after having spent last season on loan at Scottish Premiership Ross County.
Kelly very much impressed at the Staggies and this followed on from a successful loan spell in the Championship with Ayr United.
Starring in midfield alongside Ulster maestro Steven Davis, it’s telling that on a pitch full of first-teamers that Kelly’s composure and ability stood out to fans.
There are now plenty calling for Ibrox chiefs to let this “great wee player” join the ranks of the Gers first team this season:
Stephen Kelly looks like a first team Rangers player to me, folks. Would be more than happy to see him get the chance this season.
— Iain (@CemetryGates89) July 5, 2021
Stephen Kelly strolling it as expected 😀
— Willy (@spatestonbear2) July 5, 2021
Young Stephen Kelly was very comfortable on the ball Vision touch aggression were good
— Alan Carmichael (@AlanC_44) July 5, 2021
***BOLD STATEMENT ALERT***
Give it 3 years and Stephen Kelly and Billy Gilmore will be your Scotland central midfielders for every game
— 🇬🇧 Scottie 🇹🇭 (@ksc4273) July 5, 2021
Stephen Kelly is an absolute player
Should be in around the team this season imo
— 𝚁𝚊𝚗𝚐𝚎𝚛55𝚙𝚊𝚛𝚎𝚜 (@Ranger55pares) July 5, 2021
Listen I don't think I'm being bias here when I say I think Stephen Kelly should win the ballon d'Or
— CJ (@cjnovo992) July 5, 2021
Stephen Kelly had a really assured 45mins in there with Steven Davis, looks a great wee player 👏👏👏
— Alex (@alegil2101) July 5, 2021
Stephen Kelly would be my biggest positive from that. Did not look out of place playing in with the 'First 11'. Can tell the team need more games and time to get up to speed, but I like that we played a side who are a lot further into their pre season.
A good and useful test.
— James (@HeartAndHamez) July 5, 2021
It’s good to be back and the Rangers winning games again, delighted to see Stephen Kelly slot in comfortably in that second half.
— Scott Cameron (@Cammy26_2) July 5, 2021
Stephen Kelly – 1st team squad this season, not a problem.
— Gavin Kelly (@gmkelly1979) July 5, 2021
Liked the look of Stephen Kelly tonight, thought he looked good for Ross County last season aswell, imo he's as good as the likes of Ferguson and Ali McCann and I think he'l become an even better player playing alongside better players at Rangers
— Andy Stevenson (@AndyStevenson86) July 5, 2021
It wasn’t just Rangers fans who were praising Kelly come full-time either as assistant manager Gary McAllister reserved special praise of the talented youngster.
“Stephen Kelly did fantastically well,” said McAllister [RangersTV].
“Stephen’s progressed really well, he’s had a couple of good loans, he’s gone out and impressed every team he’s gone to.
🎥 REACTION: Gary McAllister spoke to @RangersTV after tonight's victory against Partick Thistle in our opening pre-season match.
🎙️ The only place to hear from Rangers players and staff this pre-season is through RangersTV.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) July 5, 2021
“I think he warranted that tonight, in amongst some senior players and some top international players he was very competent.”
The starting XI for the match with Partick Thistle certainly turned a few heads as more than a few Rangers fans reacted to a number of surprise inclusions.