RANGERS defender Steven Smith believes that the next league campaign may in some ways be easier than the one about to end for Ally McCoist’s men. Against Dunfermline at East End Park this afternoon, the League 1 champions face their closing game in the part-time environment wherein they have operated these past two years.
The step up to the, largely, full-time Championship next season has been looked upon as a decidedly more fraught assignment than the one they will seek to complete this afternoon by remaining unbeaten for the whole campaign. Yet the 28-year-old, who returned for a second spell at Ibrox last summer, considers that replacing the grind of the lower tiers with an element of glamour – as the rivalry with fellow fallen big guns Hearts will provide – could have its benefits. Meanwhile, McCoist will have the benefit of continuing to run with the second-highest wage against teams with, on average, a tenth of Rangers’ budget.
“I think it will [feel a bit more like normality in the Championship]. When we were driving to the Dundee United game in the Scottish Cup, you noticed a difference. Your own personal motivation goes up a level,” Smith said. “It’s probably been difficult for some of the boys here this year. But grinding it out is what we’ve done in some games. The manager has told us so many times that it’s about personal motivation, self-motivation. At times it is difficult but we’re paid to do a job.
“And we play for the biggest club in the country. If we don’t perform to a certain level, we’re going to get criticised. You’ve seen Celtic struggle in cup games this season against teams from lower leagues. We’ve had that every single week.
“I watched Arsenal against Newcastle the other night – and Newcastle parked ten or 11 men behind the ball. It’s hard when teams do that, no matter the level. Obviously it’s a different standard of player but it’s very difficult to break down. But we’re paid to find a way. It might not have been pretty but we’ve managed to do it, got enough points and could go the whole season undefeated.
“The Championship will be more exciting. There’s a lot to look forward to. Obviously Hearts coming down is something and we don’t know if another Premiership team might join them. After grinding our way through this one, we’ll look forward to the next.
“If the manager can bring players in, that only helps us. It is outwith our control, though, and I would be very confident going into the Championship with this squad.”
Of the prospect of finishing this campaign unbeaten, Smith added: “It was probably expected of us but it will be a decent achievement if we do manage it.”