No letting up as Rangers hunt Celtic
Walter Smith has warned his players not to take their eyes off the prize as Rangers aim to close the gap on league leaders Celtic with victory against Motherwell on Saturday.
Rangers take on Stuart McCall's side at Ibrox 24 hours before Celtic take to the pitch at Tannadice to face Dundee United, allowing Smith's side to put the pressure on the Hoops and reduce the difference at the top of the Scottish Premier League to two points.
Rangers could leapfrog their rivals if they win their two games in hand over Celtic but the Gers boss is worried the prospect of another four Old Firm derbies to come and a UEFA Europa League clash against Sporting Lisbon could be distracting his players. Smith said: "Everyone is inclined to pay more attention to the Old Firm matches and the European games and that is understandable.
"But they must not forget the important aspect of those, that being that they only carry the same meaning if we continue to win our other fixtures. We have to keep an eye on that and make sure everyone if properly focused on what they need to be at all times.
"It is only natural that the Rangers games with Celtic occupy a lot of people's minds, from the media to fans, players and managers. You can't help that, but you have to be careful not to ignore the rest of your calendar and we're not in a position to say we can relax in matches with other sides. We have to make sure that we're focused. Motherwell made us work in our League Cup semi-final and it'll be the same on Saturday."
Rangers will be without Kirk Broadfoot and Lee McCulloch, who needs a knee operation after suffering an injury in his side's match against Hearts last week. Motherwell will have new signing Francis Jeffers available for the match against his old club. The former Everton and Arsenal striker spent six months on loan at Ibrox in 2005.
Challenge to Bhoys' unbeaten run
On Sunday, Celtic face a tough trip to Tannadice to take on Dundee United. The Hoops are unbeaten in 15 games and stand-in central defender Charlie Mulgrew puts it down to the great team spirit fostered by manager Neil Lennon. "The boss is good at going round and getting the team spirit together. It shows out on the pitch when we fight for each other," Mulgrew said.
"If there is a bust-up on the park every one of us is in there right behind our team-mate and it feels like a good bond. It's great to have a boss who stands beside you. For the manager to always back us up and be fighting our corner is brilliant. It breeds a terrific team spirit within the boys."
Celtic captain Scott Brown could be missing after picking up an injury while on international duty with Scotland this week.
Hibernian, buoyed by their first win and goals of 2011 in last weekend's 2-0 victory over St Mirren, face a tough task as they welcome fourth-placed Kilmarnock to Easter Road. Hearts will be looking to cement third place as their own when they take on bottom of the table Hamilton at New Douglas Park.
Aberdeen will try and continue their rise up the table under new manager Craig Brown when they meet St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park. Second-bottom St Mirren face an Inverness Caledonian Thistle side that have failed to pick up a win in their previous ten SPL matches.