Smith wary of repeating Partick saga

Rangers go to Firhill keen to avoid last season's Scottish Cup travails
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The Independent Online

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, admits the Co-operative Insurance Cup has taken on extra significance this season because of his team's failure in Europe. They were left to focus their efforts entirely on domestic football following their Champions League qualifying defeat at the hands of FBK Kaunas last month.

The League Cup proved to be an important piece of silverware for Rangers last term as it was the first trophy of Smith's second spell in charge. Despite its reputation as the least prized of the three domestic honours, the Rangers manager is determined to see his team successfully defend their trophy and lift the three-handled trophy for the fifth time in nine years.

Ahead of tonight's third-round tie against Partick Thistle, he said: "Sometimes if you are involved in European games, there is a situation where it's maybe of lesser importance than the European matches.

"When you're not involved in Europe, it becomes an important tournament for you. We wanted to do well in the domestic competitions last season and we did so and we also want to do well in them this season. The domestic competition is the only thing left open for us at the moment.

"We know we'll get a difficult game tomorrow night and it's one we will have to make sure we are well-prepared for, because Partick Thistle drew at Ibrox last season and it took a decent performance from us at Firhill to get through."

Rangers were held to a 1-1 draw by Partick at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup back in March, before progressing with a 2-0 win at the second attempt. Smith is certain the First Division side will take confidence from those encounters when the two sides meet again tonight. "I don't think there is any doubt about that," he added "Last season, when we played Partick Thistle, we were in the midst of a lot of fixture congestion. We don't have that problem now so there are no excuses from that point of view.

"We know the type of game to expect from all of the teams who compete against Scottish Premier League teams in the League Cup, they are always awkward games to get over, especially away from home."

Smith expects Thistle to have a go at Rangers rather than sit back and attempt to force the tie to extra-time and penalties."I don't think it will be like that," he said. "They didn't play like that last season.

"I know [Partick manager] Ian McCall well and he won't play like that. He will set his stall out to make it awkward for us, I've no doubt about that, but it won't be defensively orientated. He will play to try to win the game."

Smith has injury and illness problems among his squad ahead of the visit to Firhill, with Steven Whittaker, Kyle Lafferty, Andrius Velicka, Lee McCulloch, Steven Smith and his club captain Barry Ferguson all set to remain on the sidelines. But he insists the players who do get selected will be in the team on merit.

Smith said: "We've got no fixture congestion this year so if any of the younger players do get a game it will be because they deserve to get a game, not because it's a League Cup tie.

"Our team won't vary that much from the weekend, maybe one or two changes."

Rangers' regular first-choice goalkeeper Allan McGregor was dropped in favour of Neil Alexander for Sunday's win over Motherwell and Smith hinted that the latter may retain the gloves for the short trip to Maryhill.

"It's not a matter of winning the spot back," Smith said. "The manager stands and falls by his decisions in terms of what he feels is the best thing to do. Sometimes it's easier for outfield players who can play a number of positions and get left out and then brought back in to play somewhere else. With the goalkeepers, it's just a case of who I feel would be the best suited.

"Allan just has to recapture the form he showed last season and that would be good enough for us and we would have another decision to make."

3 third-round matches

Tonight (19.45): Kilmarnock v Aberdeen, Motherwell v Hamilton, Partick v Rangers

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