Scottish Premier League news

Smith expects congestion problems

March 11, 2011

Rangers manager Walter Smith admits it will be a "tall order" to avoid dropping league points if their European run continues - but he insists there is no way he will prioritise competitions.

Walter Smith
PA PhotosWalter Smith: Left the club in 2011

Rangers put themselves in a decent position to progress to the Europa League quarter-finals with a goalless draw at PSV Eindhoven on Thursday night.

Although Smith brought in second-choice goalkeeper Neil Alexander for the first-leg clash and confirmed Allan McGregor would return for the visit of Kilmarnock in the league on Sunday, he maintains he will not take the Europa League lightly despite the prospect of damaging fixture congestion.

Rangers have played two SPL games less than Celtic, sitting five points behind their rivals, and have four outstanding matches to be scheduled, against St Mirren, Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone.

The Ibrox club let slip a seven-point lead to lose the title after their run to the 2008 UEFA Cup final and Smith admits another lengthy stint in Europe could define this year's challenge against Celtic, who exited European competition in August.

"It's a tall order for us if we continue to play in Europe. I think that might be a factor depending on how our situation develops," Smith said.

"Basically we are going to have to go on an exceptional run of wins to get the championship. I think there will be points dropped for all the clubs but Celtic went on a long run before losing to Motherwell.

"I think we will have to emulate that if we're going to be champions."

Rangers have seen their ability to handle fixture congestion affected by cuts to the size of their squad, which has been stretched further by a glut of injuries, although Nikica Jelavic and Sasa Papac are both set to return against Kilmarnock on Sunday.

"If you look at the last time, we handled it all the way up until the last couple of games when we were asked to play three games in six days and stumbled a bit there," Smith said.

"To be honest, it's not going to help us, the extra games, especially with the smaller group we've got. But there is no use trying to prejudge anything."

He added: "The priority is just to win. You can't choose. If you're in the professional game and you're in a tournament, you want to do as well as you possibly can.

"I think we've shown in the League Cup and Scottish Cup and Europe we try and do as well as we possibly can. That's the way it will be and that's the way it has to be at a club of this size."

Rangers' run to the Manchester final against Zenit St Petersburg has given the players the belief they can emulate that achievement and set up a May 18 date in Dublin.

"I don't see why not," midfielder Maurice Edu said. "I know it's a difficult task and the fact we have a thin squad this season makes it that much more difficult.

"In saying that, there is a great spirit and a great amount of character in this team. I think that can take you a lot further than some people might think."

Edu added: "When the season is over you want to look back and have things to show for it, to have the chance to win medals and do something special.

"I think everyone would rather be in that situation as opposed to being knocked out of a competition so you have less games."

Smith was more cautious about Rangers' chances of making another final, warning that PSV have the attacking capability to do what Rangers did on three occasions in 2008 and progress after a goalless home leg.

But he feels they have a good chance of beating the Dutch side and welcomed Edu's confidence.

"If you're not optimistic there's no point in trying," he said. "We have shown in the past we can come up against good sides and get through.

"We enjoyed a bit of luck in that run, if we can get another bit of luck, you never know what could happen."

The latest test of Rangers' ability to overcome their European exertions comes against fourth-placed Kilmarnock, who are fresh from 2-0 wins over both St Mirren and Hearts, although the Ayrshire side will be without playmakers Mehdi Taouil and Alexei Eremenko.

"Kilmarnock had a terrific result last week at Tynecastle, they have had some excellent results this season and played some excellent football," Smith said.

"They are well deserving of their position in the league. It will be a difficult game for us, considering we are just coming back from a European game as well."

Meanwhile, Smith confirmed Rangers would soon consider whether to appeal against assistant Ally McCoist's two-match touchline ban following his disagreement with Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

And he was philosophical about having to wait until the Scottish Football Association's disciplinary committee next meets on April 12 before discovering the outcome of misconduct charges against Madjid Bougherra and El-Hadji Diouf, who were sent off in the Scottish Cup loss at Parkhead.

Smith said: "That's normal for Scotland is it not? That's a normal situation, wait for three or four months to get an answer to any problem you've got."