Rangers good but not invincible, says Kilmarnock's Kenny Shiels
Rangers are on a roll. Of that there can be no doubt.
Walter Smith was brought back to the club in January 2007 with the remit to make Rangers the dominant force in Scotland once again — like they had been in his previous spell as manager from 1991 to 1998.
And now, in what will be his last season as manager, Smith is on his way to making Rangers better than ever.
Smith was responsible for the vast majority of Rangers’ success during a period when they won nine league titles in succession.
Now the Ibrox men are getting a lot of attention thanks to another nine-in-a-row. It’s been wins all the way in the league this season. Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Celtic ending the Bhoys’ 100 per cent start to the campaign as the Old Firm rivals matched each other stride for stride.
Even in the Champions League Rangers are unbeaten, unlike last season when their European form was wretched, failing to win a game in the group stages.
It seems that Rangers — with a bit more stability in their ranks than Celtic, whose manager Neil Lennon is still very much a rookie — are now massive favourites to lift a third successive league title. The challenge though is to keep their winning run going and the question is can they keep it going all season, or at least be crowned champions without suffering a defeat?
Former Coleraine and Ballymena United manager Kenny Shiels is now assistant boss of Kilmarnock, who will be trying to knock Rangers out of the Co-operative Insurance Cup tomorrow night and he knows how strong Smith’s men are.
“Rangers are good collectively and there is great spirit and energy in the team,” said Shiels.
“One of the biggest things they have is their togetherness.
“You look at the way their matches have gone over the last few weeks. They’ve come from behind to win matches and they’ve scored late goals to win as well.
“You don’t do that without having great spirit and coming from behind is a quality in itself.
“It’s something that Manchester United have done for years and it’s a big part of the reason why they are successful.
“I think Rangers are playing better football than last season and they have so much of a physical presence in the team.
“Outside of Steve Davis, Steven Naismith and Kenny Miller their squad is all well over six-foot tall and that plays a part.”
Is there, however, a way to beat Rangers? Shiels and boss Mixu Paatelainen have been working on finding one. How successful their plans are will be known by 10pm tomorrow.
“You never know, there is always a game somewhere along the line that you deserve to win and don’t. That’s been happening to us, but with the quality Rangers have they can grind out results,” said Shiels.
“I think we can end their 100 per cent domestic run because we’ve been playing well despite our results.
“We’ll be positive, but as well as Rangers being strong, six of their team was playing for Scotland when they held Spain — the world champions — at 2-2 for 70 or 80 minutes.”
There have been doubts over whether Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty scored the goal that put Rangers 2-1 ahead at Celtic Park, but the Kesh man is in no doubt who should be credited with the strike.
“I’m claiming the goal,” said Lafferty. “It was a great ball in from Steve Davis and it hit me on the knee and went across the goal before it took a deflection off Glen Loovens and went in.
“It doesn’t get much better than going to Celtic Park and winning. That’s what playing for Rangers is all about.
“It’s clearly a big win for us because it puts us three points ahead.”