McInnes makes grade

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The Independent Online
The last time Rangers came within 90 minutes of the European Cup final, Derek McInnes was on the verge of joining the Rangers of London.

The Morton midfielder was staying in a London hotel in April 1993, sweating on a move to Queen's Park Rangers, when Walter Smith's side met Marseille. A 1-1 draw denied the Scottish champions the chance to face Milan just as Morton's intransigence over a fee cost McInnes his move to English football.

However, the 25-year-old midfielder's fortunes have since taken a turn for the better and he will be among the Rangers (of Glasgow) squad in Switzerland for tomorrow's opening Champions' League match against Grasshopper Zurich, competing for a place with Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup.

"I can remember watching Rangers on TV when they played Marseille away in April 1993 in the Champions' League and Ian Durrant scored the goal," McInnes said.

"I was in a London hotel with Dougie Freedman, now of Crystal Palace, who like me was also a big Rangers fan. Morton had agreed a fee with Gerry Francis [then QPR manager] and I thought I was going to join QPR. But within a short period I was back at Cappielow and soon I suffered a serious injury.

"I'd been at Ibrox for other matches in the Champions' League that season and I paid my way in. So when I finally came here, I knew what the atmosphere was like but coming on and scoring against Alania Vladikavkaz at Ibrox in the preliminary round was a huge highlight.

"We were trailing at half-time so to help turn the game round was a big thrill for me. With the competition for places, I definitely know I have to make an impression in every game to keep in the manager's thoughts."

McInnes is indeed in Smith's plans for tomorrow's game in a group which includes Ajax and Auxerre. The right-back, Alex Cleland, is the only fitness concern, with treatment required on a shin problem.

Ian Ferguson and Craig Moore are in contention for places among the substitutes, but the rest of the side will be familiar, with Ally McCoist and Peter van Vossen pressing for starting roles.

Smith's primary concern, however, remains making a better start to the campaign than last season, when Rangers were beaten 1-0 by Steaua Bucharest in Romania and failed to win a game.

"We want to show more in a positive sense than we did that night against Steaua," Smith said. "Grasshopper have won their league for two years and this is their second Champions' League campaign, so they have a high standard of player.

"There is no doubting the quality of Kubilay Turkyilmaz. He can deliver a great ball into the box from free-kicks and he's very quick. But I feel we are stronger overall than we were last year and better equipped for the matches to come.

"If we can get through the first period of games, we could be strengthened further when Alan McLaren and David Robertson are fit."

Both defenders are back in training but it may be another three or four weeks before they are ready for first-team games.