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Walter on going top, the season so far and also touches on europe


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Smith cautious over looking too far ahead in title race as opportunity to stride clear of Celtic presents itself

RANGERS supporters face the appetising prospect of seeing their team hold a four-point lead in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League before the champions, Celtic, next play. It is, however, one over which the Ibrox manager, Walter Smith, is not yet salivating.

Currently two points behind the leaders with two matches in hand, Rangers will meet Dundee United at home this afternoon, followed by away games with St Mirren on Tuesday and Gretna on 16 January before Celtic are next in league action, at home to Kilmarnock, three days later.

Smith, doubtless conscious of the fact that his team have held and lost the lead twice already this season, predictably cautioned against presumptuousness yesterday, underlining, not for the first time, that his players have yet to prove that they are capable of sustaining their momentum over a telling period.

"I don't think playing these three games before Celtic play again matters until you have actually won them," he said. "The fact is, the points have still to be won and that's what we have to focus on. The significance of matches in hand won't be known until the fixtures backlog has been cleared.

"People will say, 'If you win your next three games, you'll have a clear lead,' but the most important word there is the 'if'. We have to show we can continue the challenge, build the momentum to sustain it. I keep asking myself the same question: can we maintain the effort?

"The season, as it pans out, is showing that is what we must do to succeed domestically. This present group of players has no pedigree in doing that. With this squad – and I know it sounds a cliche – you really do have to proceed on a game-by-game basis, each one to be tackled as a one-off as it comes along.

"What I mean is that, with previous, successful groups who had proved themselves, you could look at a little series of games, such as the three we have in the next 11 days, and regard them as an entity, having a good idea of what you could expect to take from them. The squad we have now hasn't yet earned the right to that approach.

"But we are encouraged by the way we've played in recent matches, as well as we have at any stage this season. It's not always easy to integrate new players and maintain a challenge at the same time, but they have shown a very good attitude."

The match against United today is the renewal of the fixture that was Smith's first when he returned to Ibrox a year ago. The manager's second tour of duty was marked with a 5-0 victory, but in pursuit of a repeat, he will be without Lee McCulloch because of a calf injury that makes his selection too much of a risk.

He does, however, have the forwards, Jean-Claude Darcheville and Nacho Novo available once again and, of course, right-back Alan Hutton, following the player's rejection of an offer to join Tottenham Hotspur on an £8 million transfer.

Rangers' progress under Smith in the past year has been remarkable, but he has enough experience of the demands for success at the club to recognise that it will be meaningless if it does not lead to honours.

"There's nothing complicated about the job here," he said. "You simply have to win. "If we don't, none of us will be here. It's a prerequisite. The ground rules are simple and they're not laid down by the manager, but by history and tradition.

"Looking back over the year, I think in domestic terms we have reached the stage we would have hoped. That is, we are making a credible challenge. Champions League-wide, I think we punched above our weight, getting so close to qualifying from a group that included Barcelona and the champions of France (Lyon) and Germany (Stuttgart).

"I was a wee bit perturbed at losing three league games in the first quarter, but, when you factor in the European campaign, maybe it's being a wee bit greedy to want better. But that's how it is here. It's why we could be drawing with the German champions at half-time in our first Champions League match and be booed off the pitch.

"I believe the group of players we have so far have shown a winning mentality, but time will tell if it can be maintained all the way to the finish."


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good article and thankfully walter is keeping his feet on the ground and i hope hes getting that message across to the players. We have a great chance to open up a gap on celtic but its not going to be easy. We should have been level on points with them as it is as we should have hammered aberdeen and it didnt happen. I am taking one game at a time starting with dundee utd today, our bogey team over the past few years and they have already beaten us this season. Going to be a very very tough match and i cant see us winning by more than one goal but as long as we get the 3 points thats all the matters. Would like a clean sheet though, defence has been a bit leaky the past 5 games i think in the spl we havent kept a clean sheet. That needs to stop today.

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