Smith fearful of Rangers fixture congestion
Rangers return to league action this weekend when they visit Inverness after the postponement of their previous two Scottish Premier League fixtures due to the severe weather that has battered Scotland.
The league leaders' games against Dundee United and Hearts have fallen foul of the snow, with their only match in the past two weeks being the 0-0 draw at Turkish side Bursaspor in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. While manager Walter Smith has been happy about the rest afforded to his squad, he admits to having serious concerns about a growing backlog of fixtures.
Rangers' title challenge petered out three years ago when a fixture pile-up saw the Ibrox club play 17 matches in the final 51 days of the season. A run to the UEFA Cup final swelled their total number of matches played over the course of the campaign to 68.
It meant Smith's side lost their grip on the title, losing out to Celtic on the final day of the campaign, and the Gers coach is hoping history doesn't repeat itself. "We're in the situation where we want to be getting games under our belts and we want to be playing again," Smith said.
"The break has allowed for some players who weren't fit before to get closer to a return and that has obviously been good. But I would rather we were still playing than missing out because the last thing we want or need is a backlog of fixtures. That's what we are in danger of ending up with.
"We've got a busy enough period approaching without having it being made busier because we have matches to re-arrange. Three years ago, we were in the fortunate position that we had a bigger group to use and there were something like 28 senior players.
"Now we're down to the mid-teens in that respect and progressing in Europe would place a great expectation on our younger boys. When you take the Christmas and New Year holiday games into account, we then get one mid-week off after the Celtic game and then we are right back into it. It looks as though we're going to have mid-week games in the whole of January to deal with and February as well."
Rangers will be without Nikica Jelavic, Kirk Broadfoot and Maurice Edu for the match against Inverness due to injury. The Gers could move five points clear of Old Firm rivals Celtic, whose game against Kilmarnock has been postponed due to safety concerns linked to the weather, along with Dundee United's match against Motherwell.
Hamilton will hope to climb off bottom spot when they host Hibernian at New Douglas Park. Billy Reid's side haven't won in six matches and will be without assistant manager Andy Millen and first-team coach Stuart Taylor, who are both out of contract with the club.
Managerless Aberdeen travel to Tynecastle to face high-flying Hearts. The Jambos are in third place, having won their previous four matches 2-0, while only goal difference keeps the Dons off the bottom.
St Mirren face fellow strugglers St Johnstone, who could leapfrog their hosts in the table with a win.