Gers sweat on Ferguson for Stuttgart clash

September 18, 2007

Rangers manager Walter Smith faces an anxious wait to discover whether captain Barry Ferguson will be fit for Wednesday's Champions League opener against Stuttgart at Ibrox.

The midfielder aggravated a knee ligament injury, which he had been carrying for several weeks, in training yesterday and now faces a late fitness test.

Ferguson was a surprise omission from the team which started against Hearts in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League at the weekend, with Rangers slumping to a 4-2 defeat.

He played the second half in Edinburgh but the reverse at Tynecastle, the first of the season for Smith's men, underlined the importance of the club captain's contribution with Wednesday night's game looming large.

'Barry will get treatment today and there will have to be a fitness test tomorrow before we know if he will be fit or not,' said Smith.

'Obviously we hope he is. He has been playing for the last three weeks or so with this injury and it's just when he gets a little knock on it, as he did in training yesterday, that it becomes rather painful.

'We are hopeful it will settle down and he will be fit and will be able to play.'

Smith assured concerned fans that 29-year-old Ferguson's problem is not serious, adding: 'It's just a small ligament injury. If it was a major injury, he wouldn't have been able to play with it.

'It will clear up the longer he goes without getting a knock on it.'

Celtic reached the last 16 of the Champions League last season, only exiting to eventual winners AC Milan after extra-time, before Scotland's win over France last week helped raise the profile of the Scottish game further.

Smith is now hoping Rangers can ride on the coat-tails of the confidence which is sweeping the nation and has challenged his players to match the achievements of their Old Firm rivals.

He said: 'Celtic did well in the Champions League last season and the national team have been doing well so it's up to all the clubs, including ourselves, to continue that and do well.

'It's good for Scottish football that we are now being looked upon in a better light than we were a few seasons ago when results at all levels weren't that good.

'I hope we can keep up the standards that have been set by other clubs and the national team as well.

'The Champions League is a step up in standard for us, there is no doubt about that. For us, it's a big challenge and we look forward to the challenge.

'Anybody worth his salt would want to be involved in the Champions League. It's the top club tournament and we are delighted to be involved in it.'

The nerves which accompanied qualifiers against FK Zeta and Red Star Belgrade may not be so prevalent against Stuttgart, now that Rangers have at least six guaranteed Champions League games to relish.

But Smith warned against losing a competitive edge in the wake of the defeat to Hearts.

He said: 'I don't really want us to relax, no. We relaxed a bit on Saturday and that's as relaxed as I want us to get.

'If you are involved in a competition, you are involved in it to do well and you need your competitive edge to be there. The tension that's involved in the previous rounds is there because it's a knockout stage.

'But, because you are in a group section, it doesn't mean the competitive edge is not still there.'

He added: 'When you lose in the manner we did on Saturday, then any game would be a welcome one to try to show that we don't normally play in that manner.

'It was a disappointing result and performance but we can't be accused of playing in that manner on a regular basis.

'We have had some good form this season, and last season as well, so I hope we can show it was a slip-up on Saturday and we can get back on track again.'

In the same way Smith is refusing to read too much into the result at the weekend, the Rangers boss is also taking little solace from Stuttgart's inauspicious start to the Bundesliga campaign.

He said: 'If you look at the championship, they are only four points from the top of the league at the moment. If that's a bad start for them, well, that's fine if that's everybody else's assessment.

'For me, it's natural. They had a season last season when they were playing at their maximum to win the championship and, at the start of the new season, it may take them a little time to get up and running.

'I'm sure with the quality Stuttgart have in their team, they will make up the points they've lost.'