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Smith forecasts strong finish to Rangers' season from Lafferty

Striker scores in first game back after illness and injury and is tipped to play big part in race for the SPL title

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, has backed Kyle Lafferty to end the season on a high now his injury and illness worries are behind him.

The striker returned to the side for Tuesday night's 2-0 win over St Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League after recovering from a knee problem and made the most of the opportunity by grabbing the opener at McDiarmid Park.

The Northern Ireland international has also endured a spell on the sidelines recently with tonsillitis and Smith is well aware that Lafferty has been unable to enjoy an uninterrupted run in the team since his arrival at Ibrox.

But now, fit and making an impact, Smith expects the striker to go from strength to strength in the remaining games. He said: "He has finished the previous seasons strongly. His seasons always seem to be disrupted by injury and then he becomes a bit stronger later.

"Although there was an error on St Johnstone's part for the goal, he still had a bit to do and it was a good goal for him. We miss him when he's out, he's a bit erratic but he's an awkward one for teams to handle."

Steven Naismith also netted late on to wrap up the win in Perth that took the Scottish champions to the top of the SPL prior to Celtic's meeting with Hibernian last night.

Rangers had already passed up the opportunity to leapfrog their rivals to the summit when they lost 3-2 to Dundee United at Ibrox on Saturday.

Smith said: "We had to show a better edge in our defending. If we had the same levels of concentration and determination on Saturday, we wouldn't have lost the goals that we did. This game was far better on what was certainly a more awkward evening and a more awkward pitch."

Naismith felt the contribution of goalkeeper Allan McGregor – who produced a superb block at 1-0 to deny Saints the leveller – was just as important as that of the goalscorers.

He said: "It was a brilliant save but that's just Greegsy for you. He does it every week. He had a good one on Saturday as well and that's why he is number one.

"Without doubt those kind of saves can help you win titles. If St Johnstone had got back into the game, it puts their confidence right up.

"As much as it was important for us to score a second goal, Greegsy definitely keeps us in games. Fans probably don't realise how he could be standing about for 80 minutes and then pull off a wonder save five minutes before the end to win you the game.

"People might say he should be doing that because he's Rangers number one but the concentration levels that goalies need to have at Rangers is definitely up there and it's hard work."

Naismith added: "We are delighted to win and I was personally delighted to get another goal after getting one on Saturday.

"We knew this was just about the result and not about any kind of performance on that pitch and we got the goals at the right time.

"We weren't worried but we were fully aware that we had to push on and get that other goal. The goalkeeper already had a couple of saves so it was vital to get the second goal to calm things down."