Smith targets Rangers victory to pull level with Celtic's Stein

Ibrox manager to join an illustrious list if his side stretch their lead to 10 points
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The Independent Football

Walter Smith is closing in on Jock Stein's Old Firm record but the Rangers manager insists he is nowhere near the standard of the man he rates as the best domestic manager in Scottish football history.

Smith will equal Stein and former Ibrox manager Scott Symon's tally of 26 victories in the Glasgow derby if Rangers beat Celtic on Sunday.

Smith would still be some way off pre-war Celtic manager Willie Maley, with 29 wins, and the record holder Bill Struth, who led Rangers to 35 victories between 1920 and 1954. But the Ibrox manager, who celebrates his 62nd birthday today, also believes he cannot compare himself to Stein, who led Celtic to nine consecutive titles and the 1967 European Cup.

"I didn't know I was close to equalling Mr Stein and Mr Symon's records and they did a lot of good in their times in charge of the two clubs," Smith said. "But while you can get close to them in terms of games won, I don't think I would even consider myself to be as close in terms of being a manager.

"Mr Stein has been an iconic figure for any of us who have been involved in management. Sir Alex Ferguson has gone to Manchester United and the success he has had there perhaps makes him the best Scottish manager ever. But, within this country, Mr Stein is without doubt the best there has been and I'm delighted to get anywhere near any record of his.

While it's good to be close to that because of what has happened in the past, it's the present that means the most to us. Our focus at the moment must not be on what we've done before, but on what we need to do now and we have to keep winning."

Rangers will go 10 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League, with a game in hand, if they beat their rivals at Ibrox. However, the Rangers midfielder Lee McCulloch claims Celtic are favourites following their January spending spree.

While debt-ridden Rangers were unable to make a permanent signing for the third transfer window in succession, Celtic added eight players to their ranks, including on-loan Premier League strikers Robbie Keane and Diomansy Kamara.

McCulloch said: "We're not silly enough to forget that with the next game everything can turn again, so we just need to keep doing what we're doing.

"Celtic have to be favourites to win the game with the players they have brought in. With the rest of the signings they have around six strikers, and some good players, but we will not be rolling over. We'll be up for the challenge, that's for sure."

McCulloch was recalled to Craig Levein's first Scotland squad for next week's friendly against the Czech Republic after withdrawing his services from previous manager George Burley.

With both Maurice Edu and the now departed Pedro Mendes having missed long spells of the season through injury, McCulloch has held down a regular place in the Rangers central midfield and the versatile player feels he has benefited from the stability.

"I don't know about the best football of my career, but it's definitely the best of my Rangers career," the 31-year-old said. "I've got players alongside me on form, too, and that's what makes it easier. We're in a good team and the boys around me are playing well.

"I'm just trying to enjoy it. If we can come out this season being as successful as the boys want to be, then it will be one hell of a summer. We've got a dressing room full of guys who hate to lose at anything and that kind of mentality rubs off on everyone."

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