Tension springs Smith on to final hurdle

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The Independent Football

Nerves, tension, pressure: Walter Smith will experience them all ahead of their title-decider against Dundee United today – which is exactly why he returned to Ibrox.

Smith came back for a second spell as Rangers manager in the wake of the disastrous Paul Le Guen era charged with the task of transforming a club in disarray. Two-and-a-half years later, he is on the brink of leading them to the Premier League for the first time in four seasons.

"You all talk about it as being pressure or tension or nerves or whatever but, when you are a football manager, that's what you want," he said. "If we don't have that tension and we don't have the nerves and we're not in a position to win a championship, then we don't stay in a job very long."

Rangers fell at the final hurdle last year when a crippling fixture list took its toll and they surrendered the title to Celtic on the final day. Smith said: "Sometimes when you go through that disappointment and you get an opportunity again quite quickly – which we have done – it can help you. It's something that can drive you on – and I can see that in a lot of players here." While Rangers travel to a United side looking for a point to guarantee European football, Celtic will entertain Hearts who have secured third place and effectively have nothing left to play for. Madjid Bougherra – cleared to play at Tannadice after his red card against Aberdeen last week was reduced to a yellow – believes Celtic face just as difficult a task.

"Every team who plays Celtic or Rangers gives 100 per cent because they want to play on the big stage," he said. "For both teams, it will be difficult."

Despite three titles in a row, Smith's Celtic counterpart, Gordon Strachan, has endured an uneasy relationship with the fans, bearing the brunt of their frustrations this season as the champions surrendered an eight-point lead over Rangers. But he bears no grudges.

"I'm not sycophantic; I'm not the guy who kisses badges or kisses the scarf," he said. "But what I've got to say is that, in the four years that I've been here, we could not have asked for the fans to do any more.

"There is no doubt that the fans have had the hardest part – they will go through all the emotions this week. Playing is fine but they are the ones who can't do anything about it other than cheer and get upset. So it's very very hard for them. Our fans are special fans and they have given us incredible backing when we have needed it. It would be wrong for me to ask for more. That would be like asking more from players who give 100 per cent. Just give us what you have been giving us, that's all we need."

The Celtic manager said his players are under no illusions about their current predicament. "We are two points behind, we are looking to win a game and we are looking for help from somewhere else," he said. "We have nobody to blame bar ourselves. We understand that and we get on with it."