Whittaker insists Rangers can cope with injury list

Goalscoring full-back believes league leaders have adequate strength in depth
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The Independent Football

Steven Whittaker insists an ever-increasing injury list is no excuse for Rangers slipping up in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title race.

The Scottish champions were already without several first-team regulars and Tuesday night's extra-time Active Nation Scottish Cup win over Hamilton Accademicals came at a cost when Kenny Miller and Nacho Novo limped off with hamstring and ankle injuries respectively.

Both players are now unlikely to feature in Saturday's SPL match against Heart of Midlothian, and Rangers are already short of attacking players.

Kyle Lafferty – who missed the Cup tie with flu – could be available, but the club's top goalscorer, Kris Boyd, is still recovering from a hernia operation and Steven Naismith and DaMarcus Beasley are unlikely to make their comebacks against the Jambos as they are still short of fitness.

Rangers manager, Walter Smith, admitted recently his compact squad was being stretched to the limit and the latest casualties mean some might say dropped points this weekend could be forgiven.

Not so, according to Whittaker, as Rangers attempt to increase their lead at the summit of the SPL to 12 points ahead of Celtic's trip to St Johnstone on Sunday. "We still want to win every game we go into, no matter who is out on that pitch," he said. "We believe we can do that; whether we have first-choice players or fringe players, we believe we can win the games.

"It's bringing the squad into play, players need to come in and hopefully fill the gaps left by the boys who are injured and suspended. That's just part of football and I'm sure we will cope with that."

Whittaker came to Rangers' rescue when he grabbed two goals in extra-time to eliminate Hamilton from the Scottish Cup and earn his side a meeting with St Mirren in the fifth round. The opening goal came courtesy of a lovely ball from Miller, which the striker might argue was goalbound anyway, but Whittaker made sure by rifling over the line from close-range. And the full-back believes Miller can have no complaints about being denied his own name on the scoresheet, insisting: "I'm absolutely positive if the boot was on the other foot, he would have put it over the line as well. Strikers are all about goals and I'm sure he would have done it to me. I think I nicked it just before it went over the line so I'm delighted with that.

"I was delighted to see it go over the goalline. We had created chances in the 90 minutes and it just felt like it wasn't going to be our day. Their goalkeeper was on top form and we hit the woodwork twice and you kind of get that feeling that it's not going for you."

Miller twice struck the crossbar during normal time on Tuesday, the second effort a fantastic first-time strike that smacked against the woodwork before the goalkeeper had moved. Whittaker may be one of the more versatile players in Smith's ranks but he is more than happy to leave striking duties to the experts this weekend – even if Rangers are short of numbers in attack.

"The one position I've never played for Rangers is up front!" he laughed. "But I'm sure there will be someone there to fill that gap and we will look forward to it. Kris and Kenny are our goal threats," he added. "They linked up so well over December and got a lot of goals. With Kris missing, it takes a little bit of fluency out of the play but it's great to chip in with goals myself. Nacho has chipped in with some goals as well so it's fantastic to have goals flying in from other areas of the pitch."