Smith challenges Rangers to go on unbeaten run in defence of title

Rangers manager Walter Smith has challenged his players to go through the rest of the season unbeaten and boost their hopes of retaining the Scottish Premier League title.

The Scottish champions squandered the opportunity to move top of the table for the first time since Boxing Day when they suffered a 3-2 defeat to Dundee United at the weekend. Smith wants his side back on top form against St Johnstone tonight but believes coming through the final 10 games without dropping points will be a big ask for both Rangers and Celtic.

He said: "I think Hearts have had the longest run of wins this season and won something like 11 games. It can be done but either team is going to have to have a run of that level to go on and win a championship. When you are at the Old Firm, you've got to win every game anyway.

"We have lost one of the 11 games we had and we'll have to try and get through the rest of them unscathed. With only one team having managed to win 10 or 11 games this season, it will be a difficult task."

Reflecting on Saturday's defeat, Smith added: "I don't think we needed a timely warning or anything like that. I felt we handled the game on Saturday reasonably well and we played reasonably well.

"We just gave away goals a minute before the end of the first half and a minute before the end of the game which are poor times for an experienced team to be losing goals. There was maybe a little bit of slackness in our defensive situation that we have to adjust to. Overall, I felt there was some good football played by both teams."

Rivals Celtic could face the prospect of playing four games in eight days after their match at Inverness was postponed. But Smith pointed out that Rangers' conquerors recently came through a similarly gruelling schedule.

He said: "Dundee United have just completed that very successfully. Peter Houston had his injury problems to overcome at the same time as well so credit to Dundee United for doing that. Celtic, I think, have a big enough group to handle that situation.

"The only ones you can look at are Dundee United and they handled it very well. They are on probably the best run of any team in the league at the moment."

Rangers, at least, will be able to take a full squad to Perth after Smith was able to name just five substitutes on the bench against United.

He said: "We had an unfortunate circumstance at the weekend when even our Under-19 players who have been on the bench for us recently – Darren Cole, Kane Hemmings and Kal Naismith – were all injured as well and that left us rather short. Darren Cole and Kyle Lafferty are fit again so that will bring our squad up to the required number."

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