Smith merely content with half-term progress

SCOTTISH FOOTBALL
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The Independent Online
Today Rangers reach the half-way stage in their pursuit of a ninth consecutive Scottish League titles, with their manager, Walter Smith, marking his half-term report "reasonable."

Rangers, desperate to equal the record of nine consecutive titles set by Celtic under the late Jock Stein, are 12 points clear of Aberdeen at the top. But Smith only regards the advantage as five points - what their lead would be if Celtic were to win their three games in hand against Kilmarnock, Raith Rovers and Dunfermline.

Today Rangers face Hearts at Tynecastle Park and victory would give Smith a happy Christmas. "We have made a reasonable start, no better than that," he said. Ally McCoist is fit and is eager for a recall to the Rangers front line. Hearts have five players doubtful, while Pasquale Bruno is suspended.

Celtic's Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk, a target for Feyenoord, has a groin strain and is doubtful for the home game against Dundee United, who have put the former Bolton forward Owen Coyle on the transfer list. Aberdeen visit Kilmarnock, where Bobby Williamson continues as caretaker manager amid rumours that Mark Hateley is heading for Rugby Park as player- manager.

Falkirk have sacked their manager Eamonn Bannon - a day after the club was fined pounds 25,000 by the Scottish League for fielding an ineligible player.

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