Rangers" Lee McCulloch free to face Celtic and Motherwell

Ibrox leeway as McCulloch is free to face Bhoys and Motherwell

Lee McCulloch”s appeal against his Christmas Eve red card will not be heard until January 5 – leaving him free to feature in Wednesday”s Old Firm showdown and the New Year visit from Motherwell.

The Ibrox club confirmed they would challenge the decision of referee Steve McLean to dismiss McCulloch for an alleged elbow on St Mirren”s Graham Carey during the champions” 2-1 defeat in Paisley.

Flashpoint: McCulloch is red-carded by referee Steve McLean against St Mirren

Flashpoint: McCulloch is red-carded by referee Steve McLean against St Mirren

And they will benefit from the wording of the SFA”s new disciplinary protocol, which state that three “working days” must be allowed for the process of evidence-gathering and submissions before a Judicial Panel can sit to decide on an appeal.

Christmas and New Year holidays mean, therefore, that there can be no resolution until January 5 at the earliest.

The loophole could well work in favour of Ally McCoist”s men as they prepare to try to defend their leadership of the SPL at Parkhead before hosting third-placed Motherwell on January 2.

Yet there is a risk attached to the move.

McCulloch could have his ban extended from two to three games if the panel ultimately decides it was a “frivolous” appeal.

Dorin Goian was also ordered off against St Mirren, but cannot contest his dismissal as it was for two yellow cards.

And the Romanian defender believes Rangers are committing “hara-kiri” with their title ambitions after the costly defeat.

Goian admits the mood within the Ibrox squad has suffered as Celtic have rapidly closed the gap to a single point, but is refusing to write off his team-mates as they prepare for Parkhead.

“We didn”t expect to lose against St Mirren, but you know how we are, we have a gift of committing hara-kiri when nobody expects it,” said Goian.

“It was hard to resist being a man down from the 20th minute, especially as they came at us following the sending-off.

“Then, of course, came my own sending off, but the fate of the game was already decided.

“I”m sorry I”ll be missing the derby against Celtic. But in a derby like this anything can happen, even if the atmosphere at the club is not the best right now.”

Kyle Bartley seems the most likely candidate to take over from Goian at the heart of the Rangers defence alongside Carlos Bocanegra, who has warned against too much being read into the outcome of Wednesday”s derby.

“What happens this week will decide nothing,” the American international told the official club website.