Smith backs referee to handle Old Firm pressure

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The Independent Football

The Rangers manager, Walter Smith, has backed the referee Dougie McDonald to cope with the pressure of tomorrow's Old Firm derby at Parkhead, insisting the controversy surrounding match officials in the opening weeks of the season has been blown out of all proportion.

Referees have found themselves under the spotlight for a series of high-profile blunders, with Rangers paying the price last week when the assistant Billy Baxter's decision to disallow DaMarcus Beasley's late winner at Aberdeen cost them two points.

McDonald now finds himself in the unenviable position of officiating one of the biggest matches of the season, at a time when officials are under more scrutiny than ever before.

However, Smith does not believe tomorrow's game will be any different to any other meeting between the Glasgow giants – and does not expect dubious decisions to overshadow the action on the pitch.

He said: "It's one of those games where there is a lot of tension and it brings a little bit of pressure on everybody – not just the referee. The officials will handle that situation. I think this whole situation has been blown out of proportion. In all the time that I've been involved, referees and linesmen have always made errors the same way that players and managers make errors as well.

"There is a lot of tension in Old Firm games and the referees have to learn how to handle it and I'm sure the game will be handled very well. The referees have a tough job, as we all do at different times, and we just have to get on with it.

"It's difficult now because of the scrutiny they are under in terms of television but it happens everywhere and referees and linesmen just have to improve and cut out their errors in the same way that managers and players have to do to keep their position."

A number of players on both sides will make their Old Firm debuts this weekend, with Kyle Lafferty, Andrius Velicka, Madjid Bougherra, Aaron, Pedro Mendes and Maurice Edu all hoping for their first taste of the famous fixture.

"A number of our players are experienced," Smith said. "They've played in important games, big games throughout their careers, so they know what to expect. Of the younger ones, they just have to learn. I hope they handle it. It's a good experience for most footballers. You want to be involved in big games and this game is certainly a big one."