Smith holding nothing back for Uefa final as Rangers focus on title
Saturday 10 May 2008
With six games to play in 15 days in three competitions, beginning at lunchtime today at Ibrox against Dundee United, Rangers might be forgiven for having one eye already Wednesday's European final, their first in 36 years.
But their manager, Walter Smith, denies that their concentration will be affected and has faith that his team can still add the Scottish Premier League crown, the Scottish Cup as well as the Uefa Cup to the CIS Cup already in the trophy room.
And as today's match is SPL business, that is where all the attention will lie until full-time. Rangers trail Celtic by four points this morning. But they have two games and their title fate still in their own hands, so victory is vital to maintain the momentum.
A win would reduce the deficit to a point and put some pressure back on to Celtic, who host Europe-chasing Hibernian at Parkhead tomorrow. After that, Celtic will have only one match to play, at Dundee United on 22 May, while Rangers will still be facing the Uefa Cup final against Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester, three more SPL games (all away), and the Scottish Cup final, on 24 May, against Queen of the South.
"The importance of the League championship is a big thing," Smith said yesterday. "I don't think we need any warnings about not focusing on [today's] game. Everybody knows exactly what it means."
Smith insisted his team selection today will not be influenced by the imminent European final, despite today's match being Rangers' 63rd this season.
"The boys want to play," he said. "They have shown, physically, they are handling it and I think they are getting there mentally now as well.
"They can start to see the beginning of the end of the games and they are looking forward to every one of them.
"This aspect of catch-up, or an imbalance in fixtures, is just something that's there. It's a far better one than last year when we went into the last couple of games with nothing to play for."
Craig Levein's United have been one of Rangers' most difficult opponents this season, taking four points at Tannadice and losing only on penalties in the CIS Cup final.
"They've been doing it all season," Smith said. "They have been aggressive in their approach to the games and by that I mean they like to get forward.
"They've enjoyed a good season and they can turn it into an exceptionally good one by gaining a Uefa Cup place so they will be up for the game. They will be ready for this one and I would fully expect a really good game."
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