Smith feeling the nerves in title race
Walter Smith admits he is suffering from nerves as Rangers closed in on their third successive Scottish Premier League championship with a comfortable 4-0 win over ten-man Hearts at Ibrox yesterday.
Rangers opened up a four-point lead over Old Firm rivals Celtic and reduced their goal difference advantage to just one with their comprehensive win over third-placed Hearts. Celtic have the chance to close the gap when they face Kilmarnock away later today but Rangers now just need to win their final two fixtures to clinch the title.
Smith's side have experience of close finishes in title run-ins having lost and won twice on final-day deciders in the past three years. But the veteran Rangers boss, who is chasing his tenth league title before retiring in the summer, says that doesn't mean he and his players are immune from nerves.
"If you are going for a league championship and you have a couple of games to win then you will be nervous before the games, it's natural," he said. "We have experienced in the last three years a situation where we have lost one and won two. The boys have experienced that but you still get nervous. You just have to handle that situation.
"We've got experience of it but it still happens. I've been lucky enough to get quite a few but I still get nervous and it's part and parcel of it all."
If Celtic fail to win at Kilmarnock, Rangers could clinch the title when Dundee United come to visit on Tuesday. But Smith believes the Hoops will take the title down to a last-day showdown next Sunday when Rangers visit Kilmarnock and Celtic host Motherwell.
"I said before that in my own mind I felt that we had to win the three games that were left to play and I think it's still like that," the Rangers boss said. "The only thing that changed by Celtic losing was the fact that if we do win the games then we win the championship where as if Celtic had won during the week we wouldn't have.
"That's the only thing that's changed and we still have to win our two games left. That's the way I'm looking at it.
At Ibrox new Rangers owner Craig Whyte watched on from the stands as his new side raced into a 3-0 half-time lead through goals from Nikica Jelavic, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis. Hearts' Eggert Jonsson was shown a straight red just after the hour mark for a crude challenge on Jelavic before a Ryan Stevenson own goal in the 83rd minute sealed the win.
When asked about the new owner, who bought former chairman Sir David Murray's controlling stake in the club on Friday after a protracted sale that has been on and off since before Christmas, Smith said he was relieved the takeover talk was over.
"We are glad it's settled like everybody else. It seems since Christmas time we've had that situation cropping up," Smith said. "From everybody's point of view it's settled now and everyone can get on with it. But for everyone on the footballing side we've just got to make sure our concentration is on the next two games and then the club will effectively go into new hands and we can go on from there."
And the Rangers manager praised out-going chairman Sir David Murray, who oversaw great successes on the park including nine league championships in a row, during his 23 years at the helm of the club.
"He's got a hard act to follow. I think when you've been an owner or manager here people will always have their opinions of you; good, bad or indifferent," Smith said. "The measure of success is how the team has done. I think Sir David has been one of the most successful owners in British football so whoever follows him has got a hard act to follow in that respect.
"People will always have a difference of opinion but I think if you are a Rangers supporter you have got to say that Sir David Murray has been excellent for Rangers in the period of time that he has owned the club."