THE natter around Ibrox last night after Rangers 2-0 win over Kilmarnock was that Steven Whittaker might just be the club's "Alan Hutton of the left".
The 21-year-old, signed in a 2m deal from Hibernian in August, was pressed into the left-back role vacated by flu-bug victim Sasa Papac. Whittaker seized the opportunity to impress with a galloping run up that flank in the 54th minute from which he crafted a memorable strike - goalscoring the only facet missing from the game of the country's form player and rampaging right-back Hutton. Whittaker did not blanche at possible comparisons.
"I think I can do that," said the player, who admitted he had only played there "once or twice before". "I did that role on the right for Hibs. I like to get up the park. I might have to learn to use my left foot a bit more but I hope I am capable of that if the left is where I am going to play."
Asked about his more regular deployment on the right, Whittaker seemed to suggest he would prefer a career change: "I am happy to play anywhere but I feel I am better attacking from a defensive position more so it suits my game better to be a full-back,. Alan Hutton is a top-class defender, has been in great form and has made that position his own."
Whittaker was one of 10 Scots in the Rangers line-up at the end of an encounter that brought a victory that left the Ibrox club only one point behind Celtic, who drew away to Hearts earlier in the afternoon. Rangers began the day with nine indigenous performers before Charlie Adam came on for Jean-Claude Darcheville, who had opened the scoring after three minutes before he felt a tweak in the hamstring that has limited his involvement in recent months.
Afterwards, however, Walter Smith defended the striker over suggestions he might be injury prone. "The player is as concerned as anyone about the problem but it stems from him not being able to complete a full pre-season after arrived at the club with an Achilles injury," he said.
The Ayrshire club's manager, Jim Jefferies, refused to be downcast about his club's fourth consecutive defeat, claiming he had nothing to be disappointed over since his side were "always in the game", although they appeared to contribute precious little to it. "After the early goal I feared a confidence-sapping result," he said. "But I'd give our boys credit because they didn't buckle."