Rangers can go through without Prso, says McLeish

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The Independent Football

The Rangers manager, Alex McLeish, believes his team can book their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions' League without talismanic striker Dado Prso.

The Croatian was booked during Wednesday night's 2-2 draw with Villarreal at Ibrox, meaning he will miss the return leg in Spain in a fortnight's time. It is a blow for a team who will need all the firepower they can muster after Villarreal left Glasgow with two precious away goals.

But McLeish pointed to earlier successes in the competition, particularly their 1-1 draw in Porto, when they were a team ravaged by injury. And he insists Rangers can defy the odds once again. He said: "We would like to have Dado there but I have to focus on positives.

"We went to Porto without Dado, as well as about 10 first-team players including Thomas Buffel, Nacho Novo, Julien Rodriguez and Olivier Bernard. We went to Porto not given a prayer and we came back with a memorable result. You can never say never."

Rangers became the first Scottish club to reach the last 16 of the Champions' League and McLeish admits he would be lost for words if they could beat Villarreal in Spain and progress even further.

He said: "If it happens I would run out of superlatives. The players will take great heart from the fighting spirit and determination they showed in the Villarreal game at Ibrox."

Poor domestic form sees the Scottish champions battling just to finish second in the SPL this season. McLeish denied his players had simply not worked hard enough in the SPL but he admits they have struggled to cope with the demands of being involved in both competitions.

He said: "What we have experienced in the Champions' League has been enhanced a wee bit by our dismal domestic form. It's been difficult for them to handle the domestic season because of the mentality.

"It's an inexperienced squad and there have been a lot of injuries throughout the season. It's never one reason and it's not down to there not being enough determination in the Premier League. There has been a shortage of confidence at times, which can happen to the best players, and the best players haven't always been available to me throughout the season."

The Rangers defender Steven Smith thanked McLeish for handing him his Champions' League debut. The 20-year-old broke into the first team only this season and has been battling with Ian Murray for the left-back position since late December.

McLeish tinkered with his side once again for the visit of Villarreal but allowed Smith to keep his place at the expense of the more experienced former Hibernian captain.

After the dramatic 2-2 draw, a grateful Smith said: "I owe a lot to the manager. He has showed faith in me by keeping me in even for the League games. He showed faith again against Villarreal when he could have left me out for a more experienced player so I owe him a lot."

Smith said Rangers were not taken by surprise by the Spanish side but singled out Juan Roman Riquelme as their best player.

"Riquelme's a quality player who floats behind the front two and makes passes. It's really difficult to cope with him but I think Brahim Hemdani and Barry Ferguson did really well."