Le Guen sticks with winning formula after triumph in Tuscany

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The Independent Online

Rangers broke new ground by beating Livorno in the Uefa Cup on Thursday and Paul Le Guen looks likely to break his habit of tinkering with his team as they return to domestic action tomorrow at St Mirren. An unchanged starting line-up is on the cards for the first time in more than a month.

Rangers are 10 points adrift of the leaders Celtic in the SPL, and five behind Hearts in second place. Celtic host Motherwell today while Hearts play Kilmarnock at Tynecastle.

Thursday's victory, against a team currently fourth in Serie A, was the first time any Scottish side had won a competitive match on Italian soil, but more than that, it allowed Le Guen some breathing space after a less than sparkling start in the League. "It's not that we were dead but simply ill," he said. "This is a good step for us, to get through this situation we are in."

Rangers triumphed 3-2 in Tuscany thanks to a storming eight-minute spell in the first half when Nacho Novo, recalled after months in the wilderness, scored one goal and won a penalty.

Celtic's ongoing injury crisis did nothing to prevent the first of two excellent Glaswegian results in Europe this week - they won 3-0 against Benfica in the Champions' League with four first-choice players out.

But their manager, Gordon Strachan, was waiting until this morning to decide his team to face Motherwell. His fresh concerns surround his full-backs Paul Telfer and Lee Naylor, who were both struggling for fitness yesterday. His regular right-back, Mark Wilson, is on the long-term injured list.

"It's a problem in that area because we don't have anybody else we can try there, we have not tried any youngsters there yet, so it is a concern," Strachan said yesterday. "But we will wait until tomorrow before making a decision."

Strachan insisted that Bobo Baldé remains firmly in his plans for the future, despite not playing a League game this season and reports that the former Celtic manager, Martin O'Neill, is preparing a £1.5m bid to take the Guinea international to Aston Villa. A comeback against Motherwell is a possibility.

Celtic's Dutch striker, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Danish midfielder Thomas Gravesen and Scotland striker Craig Beattie are still injured but Aiden McGeady, who missed the Benfica game, trained yesterday after recovering from his ankle injury.

Hearts, the only side offering a challenge to Celtic, have numerous absentees against Kilmarnock today, with the midfielder Saulius Mikoliunas serving a one-match ban and six other players out injured.

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