Smith hails battling Rangers

Walter Smith praised the spirit of his Rangers side after they belied their underdogs billing to clinch the Scottish League Cup with a 2-1 extra-time win over Old Firm rivals Celtic at Hampden.

Updated: March 21, 2011 12:48 IST
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Glasgow: Walter Smith praised the spirit of his Rangers side after they belied their underdogs billing to clinch the Scottish League Cup with a 2-1 extra-time win over Old Firm rivals Celtic at Hampden.

Celtic had been heavy favourites for the trophy after three recent Old Firm wins however it was Walter Smith, in his final appearance at the national stadium before he retires in the summer, who lifted the cup as Rangers clinched the first silverware of the season.

Rangers had tasted defeat twice in the league and had been knocked out the Scottish Cup by their Glasgow rivals in the lead up to the final and Smith said it had taken an exceptional performance from his players to win the competition for the 27th time.

"I've said on many occasions we've got a really good group of players here," the Rangers manager said.

"Even the players who have come in on loan over the season have joined our group and shown excellent spirit and determination.

"I think it was strange for them to find themselves in a position where they were more or less written off for the game so it was a nice little challenge for them and they accepted it very well.

"None of the boys who play for our team who have been here for a number of years need to prove anything to anybody.

"They have given everything for the club and they've played exceptionally well so I don't see any reason why they have anything to prove, they've just got to keep winning.

"Today was a testimony to their own professionalism in terms of their overall fitness and desire to win."

After the off-field antics in the last Old Firm league fixture the fireworks were kept to the pitch at Hampden as Steven Davies gave Rangers the lead in the 24th minute before Joe Ledley headed the Hoops level seven minutes later.

However, after a goalless second-half, Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic popped up in injury time to slot the ball in off both posts eight minutes into extra time before Celtic had Emilio Izaguirre sent off in the final minute for a foul on substitute Vladimir Weiss.

Smith will walk away from Ibrox at the end of the season as his second spell at the club comes to an end.

After a trophyless season in the final campaign of this last tenure he admitted it was good to sign off with a trophy and says it could give his side a psychological boost as both sides of the Old Firm challenge for the Scottish Premier League title.

"It is a nice one because from my point of view the last time when I was leaving we didn't win anything in my last season. We have managed to win something this season so that's a pleasing aspect of it from a personal point of view," Smith said.

"But the most important thing is that the club wins.

"It will not do us any harm but we are still at the stage of the season where we could be badly effected by injury and suspension.

"It's not really been that easy for us shuffling around so we could still be hit by that but certainly psychologically it was a good win for us and gives us a lift.

"But we're going to have a lot of games in a short period of time and that will give us a full test for the group."

Celtic manager Neil Lennon was denied the chance to lead his side out at Hampden because of an eight-match touchline ban but Hoops assistant boss Johan Mjallby said it had been a frustrating experience for his boss.

"We're certainly not going to use that as an excuse for why we lost the game," said Mjallby as Lennon's media boycott continued.

"I think it is probably hardest on him because he is going to be less effective being in the stand and probably very frustrating for him to sit up there. Neil wants to kick every ball as well so it was probably hard for him but it didn't change much."

The loss means Celtic were denied the chance of a treble but Mjallby says defeat won't have an adverse effect on his players.

"We are not the ones who have been talking about the treble. It's other people outside the players and coaching staff," the Celtic assistant said.

"Sure, we had that chance but it's gone now so we need to go back and concentrate on the league and the FA Cup."

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