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Time for smith to abandon his conservative instincts

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If fortune favours the brave then it surely follows that the converse also rings true. Rangers' misfortune in Sunday's Co-operative Insurance Cup final stemmed largely from their own faintheartedness. Walter Smith has never been one to gamble recklessly with team selection but it is one thing to be cautious and respectful of the opposition, and quite another to be ultra conservative to the point of strangling all creativity. For Smith, the fear of losing has now overtaken the desire to win.

Simply put, Rangers should not be lining up in a 4-5-1 formation at a neutral venue. It is a system just about acceptable away from home against one of Europe's leading lights, or in a league match at Celtic Park. A national cup final at Hampden against Celtic is like heads up at poker. Smith assessed his hand, calculated what Gordon Strachan had on the other side of the table, and effectively folded. It spoke volumes about the Rangers manager's evaluation of his squad that he did not entrust them with the task of taking the game to their opponents, preferring instead to try to nullify Celtic and hope to sneak something on the counter-attack or from set-pieces.

The irony, of course, is that both Celtic goals arrived from dead balls and that they similarly lined up 4-5-1. Gordon Strachan, though, turned the problem of a misfiring strikeforce into an opportunity by playing an extra midfielder, and allowing Aiden McGeady to roam free in a supporting role beside Scott McDonald. He has also shown a willingness to indulge his flair players like McGeady, Shunsuke Nakamura and Scott Brown in the knowledge that it is better to try to win a game, rather than simply attempting not to lose it. McGeady, Nakamura, and Brown may lack defensive discipline on occasion but they at least offer a regular spark in attack. Rangers, in contrast, were lifeless.

They, too, had players at Hampden capable of offering an injection of ingenuity. Unlike Celtic's, however, they were all dressed in suits and seated in the stand. It would be unfair to lambast Christian Dailly, who has been a fine servant to many clubs as well as the national team throughout a distinguished career, but his inclusion on the bench aged 35 and without an appearance to his name for six months, was baffling.

With just five substitutes permitted in this competition, Dailly's inclusion, presumably in case Kirk Broadfoot succumbed to the foot injury that had been troubling him in the build-up, used a berth that could have been taken by Steven Naismith, John Fleck, DaMarcus Beasley, or Aaron Niguez. Granted, none of that quartet has posed a consistent threat this season, but up against a Celtic defence shorn of its best operator - Gary Caldwell was redeployed in midfield - any one of them would surely have created at least a handful of chances.

Denied any real service from the wings and with Kenny Miller utilised as a lone(ly) striker, it was little surprise that Rangers failed to score for the third Old Firm game in succession. Kyle Lafferty was his team's best player on the day but was given only half an hour in his preferred position through the middle before he was taken off. Kris Boyd and Nacho Novo made next to no impact from the bench, Pedro Mendes did little to suggest he should be a contender for Player of the Year, while Barry Ferguson's days of dominating the midfield battles seem increasingly to be behind him.

Smith, reportedly, had prepared all week to play 4-4-2 with Lee McCulloch stationed wide on the left behind a front two of Lafferty and Miller. On receiving Celtic's teamsheet, however, Smith had a change of heart. Sensing the need to go like for like in midfield, McCulloch was moved inside, Lafferty shunted to the wing, and Miller left to go it alone up front. The reshuffled unit contained Celtic for 90 minutes before Darren O'Dea made the breakthrough early in extra time. Rangers had precious few resources with which to respond and paid the ultimate price.

Smith now has 10 league matches left in which to make amends and shape his legacy. Should Rangers fail to win the title, it seems unlikely he will be given another season to try to end the championship drought. Another season without success and Celtic would be halfway towards 10-in-a-row. Should Smith win the title this season he may decide, aged 61, there will not be a better time to walk away.

Ever the pragmatist, he will realise that one cup final defeat does not signal a need for panic. Until the shock loss to Inverness Caledonian Thistle recently, Rangers had gone through their opening 10 games of 2009 undefeated, conceding only two goals in that time. Madjid Bougherra, injured on Sunday, will return this weekend to further fortify the defence. A case could also be made for Steven Davis to be given an overdue opportunity to play in the central midfield role he so craves at the expense of either Ferguson or Mendes. Lafferty has done enough to earn an extended run at centre forward, while Fleck will return hungrier after dropping out of the side following a stellar start.

Navigating the closing weeks of the season will be a real test of nerves for all involved. It will take strong hearts and minds. Sometimes it will also require a sense of adventure and a willingness to take a gamble. Fortune does favour the brave, after all.


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The fact that he thought we played well and had no regrets after the game tells me all I need to know.

He wont change, he'd rather risk losing everything just to prove his negative approach to football is the right approach.

Maybe we should start asking him to play Weir, Dailly, McCulloch and Ferguson every week

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great article, it makes you ask the question, did he not learn from the UEFA Cup final?

Said the same thing on Sunday, the only other time I have seen Rangers look that spineless and devoid of life in a final is the UEFA Cup final last year.

The article is actually very well written and sums up both the errors and problem ahead quite neatly.

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Perhaps Walter feels that his cautious instincts have kept him in a job for 30 years so why should he change now. Admittedly he did play more attacking football during his first spell at Ibrox but it wasn't particularly bold to play positively with that squad of players

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Crazy thing is if we'd played 4-4-2 even with Lee on the wing I think we would have won, they couldn't handle balls over the top at all and Loovens and McManus looked shaky trying to just catch up with Miller would have been a different story if they'd had to deal with both of them.

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