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New Year: a time to start righting wrongs


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A traditional time of year for reflection has coincided with Rangers losing the Old Firm game to fall seven points behind Celtic. Walter Smith, however, will not be afforded the luxury of an extended period of contemplation as he sets about trying to salvage a season already marred by calamity in Kaunas.

An unrelenting fixture list demands that any rethinking and tinkering by the Rangers manager will need to be done on the hoof.

Tomorrow, Smith will lead his men north to joust with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Previously this was "a very difficult place to go" but results would suggest Inverness have become a rather less hostile host in recent weeks. Rangers will need to exploit that Highland hospitality to the full - and halt their inconsistent form away from home - if they are to close the gap on Celtic. Had their results on the road been half as good as those achieved at Ibrox, where they were undefeated in the league for 14 months until last weekend, then it would be Rangers and not Celtic in pole position for the championship at the start of 2009.

"There have been inconsistencies in different parts of our game," Smith said. "In some games we have defended well, in others we haven't, while in some games we have created a lot of opportunities, in others not. That has to be something we have to concentrate on. We have to try to eradicate the faults we've shown in the first half of the season. One of the biggest frustrations is that we've not been outplayed in any domestic game this season and so it's been our frailties as much as anything else that have caused us problems. It's in our own hands to make sure we are steadier and far more consistent than we've been. And that starts from Sunday's game."

Rangers, who include Madjid Bougherra and Steven Naismith in the travelling party for Inverness but are without Maurice Edu, began 2008 by stringing together 11 consecutive SPL victories and Smith is hopeful of something similar starting now. "We need to go on a winning run and that has to be our goal in the second half of the year. Our run last season came at this time but every season is different. It doesn't automatically mean you will get it again but at this stage last year we went on a run of wins that eventually took us top of the league. We've got to hope that last season mirrors this season but there's no certainty of that. We have to just concentrate on our own run of form and try to get into that mode."

Players like Edu and Kyle Lafferty have failed so far to make the impact expected of them but Smith feels their ages, 22 and 21 respectively, should be taken into account as much as the fees paid for them. "I felt we had to try to bring in a few younger players and it always takes a bit of time for them to settle. Lafferty and Edu will play a big part for Rangers in forthcoming years, I've no doubt about that. The younger ones, even those that have played in Scotland for quite a few seasons like Steven Whittaker and Kevin Thomson, all take time to settle. Nowadays we can't get a higher level of player. We were able to go to England in previous times so now we have to look at younger ones. People's expectations of the younger ones shouldn't be the same as of the experienced players."

David Weir echoed his manager's lament about Rangers' patchy start to the season but felt that not all the damage has been self-inflicted. "We have evolved and changed as a team and perhaps taken longer than we should have done to get the mentality right," he said. "I don't want to go down the line of making excuses - at the end of the day it's us that have created those circumstances but you have to give Celtic credit for the run they have gone on. It was a big disappointment for them to lose to us I am sure, as it was for us to lose to them. They responded in the right way, that is why they are top of the league. You have to also give the other teams credit - I think they have improved. The likes of Dundee United, Hearts and Aberdeen have become harder to beat."

Smith bobbed and weaved around the issue of players departing Ibrox during the transfer window. Newcastle United hope to entice Bougherra to the Barclays Premier League just six months after signing for Rangers but Weir, who saw his previous central defensive partner, Carlos Cuellar, go to Aston Villa in the summer, hopes the Algerian won't follow a similar path. "I think Bougherra has been unfortunate over the last two or three weeks with injuries, and we have missed him. I don't know if there is interest from other clubs but we would obviously love Madjid to stay here - he has been very good when he has been here. Carlos did well last season, and if you do well at a big club then you will attract attention. That is the nature of football. Every club in every league is looking for new players. But playing for Rangers is a good way to earn a living and the grass isn't always greener.


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