SPL agrees to extend season if Rangers reach European final

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The Independent Football

The Scottish Premier League season will be extended by four days to 22 May if Rangers reach the Uefa Cup final. The SPL is to reveal two provisional fixture lists, one that will be implemented if Rangers beat Fiorentina in their European semi-final and one if they lose.

Both fixture lists include a run of two SPL games in three days for Rangers, who would have to play the Scottish Cup final two days after their final league game if their European run continues. If they miss out on the Uefa Cup final, which takes place on 14 May in Manchester, Rangers must play St Mirren on 13 or 15 May. That would allow the season to end on schedule, on 18 May.

However, should Rangers overcome Fiorentina those dates would become unsuitable. Walter Smith's side would instead face Motherwell on 17 May, rather than travel to Aberdeen the following day, which was due to be their final game of the campaign according to the original fixture list.

They would then play St Mirren on 20 May and face Aberdeen on 22 May – two days before their Scottish Cup final date with Queen of the South.

The other matches involving top-six sides – Dundee United v Celtic and Hibernian v Motherwell – would also be played on 22 May to ensure the season finishes at the same time for each club.

Because Fir Park would be required on 17 May if Rangers reach the Manchester final, Gretna's final match would have to be moved and a date of 8 May has been pencilled in by the SPL.

Games have been postponed for various reasons this season, with four put back to later dates following the death of the Motherwell captain, Phil O'Donnell, in December. Rangers also succeeded in a request to have their SPL game against Gretna postponed in December to afford them extra preparation time for their Champions League game against Lyons.

The Rangers manager, Walter Smith, has prepared home supporters for another night of caution against Fiorentina. His side have progressed to the last four thanks to clean sheets in each home leg of their five knockout ties in Europe this season.

Goalless first legs against Panathinaikos and Sporting Lisbon at Ibrox were not greeted with much enthusiasm but Rangers progressed each time and have scored more goals away than at home in the Uefa Cup. And caution will be the watchword again for tomorrow's first leg.

Smith said: "A home game is a difficult game to get first because the away goal is a major factor. Last time against Sporting Lisbon we got a 0-0 and everyone said we should go for it in the first game. But Sporting Lisbon had scored in nearly every away match they had played.

"One of the benefits of a 0-0 at home is the opposition are then aware they can't afford to leave any gaps. I felt that affected Sporting Lisbon. While we will always try to impose ourselves and try to get a goal, you have to show a level of care in making sure you don't lose one."

Smith believes having a clean slate for the first full season of his second spell in charge has allowed him to hone the careful approach in Europe.

The 60-year-old was 90 minutes from taking the club to the 1993 European Cup final but there were more disappointments than successes in Europe in his first spell at Ibrox.

Smith said: "Last time I was at Rangers we were doing well domestically and always attacking. If we had been a little more cautious we would maybe have had more success in European games.

"It's difficult for a Scottish team – Rangers have to win every game on a Saturday, home and away, so that's how you set your stall out. The team gets used to that style of play and take that as something they have to do in every game. In European matches that type of play maybe left us a bit too open.

"When I came back with a team with no winning pedigree I have been a little more cautious and we have got a level of success we maybe thought we wouldn't have.

Smith is allowing himself to dream of the final in Manchester but he appreciates the threat from the Italian side, who are fourth in Serie A and knocked out Everton in the last 16.

Smith said: "They have found a good level of consistency in their team structure, and one of the main aspects is that [Adrian] Mutu can bring something different to complement the team ethic.

"Once you are in a semi-final you can think about getting to the final, that's legitimate. You can look at that while being aware of the difficulties.

"Everton are having an excellent season and Fiorentina managed to get past Everton, so we know we have a big task," Smith acknowledged.