Football: Injuries disrupt Smith's plans

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WALTER SMITH, the Rangers manager, yesterday lost the services of Gary Stevens for the rest of the season, but could afford more than cautious optimism at the prospect of facing Club Bruges at Ibrox tonight in the European Champions' League, writes David McKinney.

With several key players struggling to recover from injury, Smith declared he would delay team selection until the last moment and, as in their previous ties, some of Rangers' younger players will be asked to operate at a higher level than they could have expected at this stage in their development.

Stevens, the England full-back, is to have an operation in London tomorrow. He has played just 10 times this season, because of a recurrence of a foot injury sustained in a friendly against Brazil last May, which ruled him out of the European Championship finals.

'This is a major disappointment,' Smith said. 'We would like to have had Gary available for the busy finish to our season, but medical opinion is that he needs an operation. The plan is to insert a metal plate in his foot, so he is obviously out for some time.'

Smith still has doubts over Richard Gough, Ian Ferguson, Trevor Steven, Dale Gordon, David Robertson, Pieter Huistra and Andy Goram. 'Of the injured players, Trevor Steven looks as if he has the best chance of being fit,' the manager said. 'The squad know we will have to play as well if not better than we did in the second half of the game in Belgium if we are to have a chance of winning. Marseille are the group favourites, so we have to get results against the other teams to keep up with them.'

While Rangers have resigned themselves to making the best of things with those players available to them - and the youngsters such as Gary McSwegan, Neil Murray and Steven Pressley have performed well when called upon - defeat at home is unthinkable.

Hugo Broos, the Bruges manager, said: 'We still have a chance of playing in the European Cup final if we are not beaten, but if we lose the chance will be gone and it is the same for Rangers.' The veteran central defender, Alex Querter, is suspended and two potential replacements, Pascal Plovie and the Australian, Paul Okon, are injured, so the Hungarian, Laszlo Disztl, is likely to deputise.