Smith stays upbeat on Rangers' workload

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The Independent Football

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, believes his players will be fully focused on their quadruple challenge despite the club's failure to ease their schedule.

Smith feels the mindset will be unaffected by the Scottish Premier League's insistence that Rangers play Dundee United on Saturday just four days before their Uefa Cup final against Zenit St Petersburg. This despite Zenit not playing between their Uefa Cup semi-final and next Wednesday's showpiece.

"Players remove themselves from all that," Smith said yesterday in the build up to tonight's SPL game with Motherwell at Ibrox. "Normally I would do too, but I just felt it wasn't right at this stage.But players themselves are here to play, and I am here to manage the team, whenever we are told to play. That's what we'll do. For us, it's just a matter of making sure we get our focus back."

The visit of Motherwell is the first of seven games in 18 days for Rangers as they look to add the Uefa Cup, SPL title and Scottish Cup to their CIS Cup success. Celtic have piled the pressure on by going seven points clear at the top of the table, although they have played three games more than their Glasgow rivals.

Smith is relishing the prospect, daunting as it is. "It would be a huge challenge to anybody, what we have in front of us," he said. "The games are not being played in a span of time that we would like them to be played in, but it's an exciting challenge.

"This season, if you said to me with four or five games to go we would be challenging for the championship, I would accept that. I would have thought that would have been a good season for us."

The Rangers manager feels no need to use the club's anger at the SPL as a motivational tool. "That's not been a motivation to anybody," he said. "The motivation has been to win, since the start of the season, and that's what we have tried to lay down. That is just emphasised even more come the end of the season."

While Smith admits fearing mental fatigue in his players and called for them to start sharper against Motherwell than they did in Sunday's goalless draw at Hibernian, defender Christian Dailly has seen no sign of any strain.

"I think if you maybe look back at the end of the season, you notice subconsciously it might be an issue," Dailly said. "But when you are actually involved in it, you feel OK."

The squad has been strengthened ahead of tonight's game by the return of Charlie Adam following fears a knee injury had ruled him out for the season. Lee McCulloch and DaMarcus Beasley, who has not played since suffering a knee injury during the Champions League defeat in Stuttgart in November, are also back in training.

"I would hope that both of them will be involved, if not tomorrow, possibly Saturday," Smith said.