Rangers chasing cup hat-trick in bid to match Celtic's record haul

LAST weekend at half-time in their Active Nation Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Hamilton Accies at New Douglas Park, Walter Smith and Rangers were watching their dream of a domestic treble about to disappear, as the manager ruefully admitted yesterday.

The controversial equaliser from the penalty spot by Kenny Miller gave Rangers a 3-3 draw and the chance to advance further in the Cup if they can beat Hamilton in Tuesday night's replay at Ibrox.

If they do so, and go all the way to Hampden and lift the trophy, it will be the 34th time that the world's oldest football trophy still in use has gone to Ibrox, and that will equal Celtic's record number of wins. The last time equality reigned was in 2003 when Rangers caught up with Celtic's 31 victories, but prior to that the Parkhead side had been the Cup "champions" for four decades.

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Rangers will need to complete the final leg of a hat-trick of wins – that has not happened since Aberdeen made it three in a row in 1984 – if they are to catch up with their oldest rivals. Doing the hat-trick would therefore be an event of some significance if Rangers win the Cup, but equalling Celtic's record is not something anyone is talking about at Ibrox.

Smith happily admitted he had no idea of the state of the statistics, and neither did Steven Whittaker, though he was happy to think about catching Celtic.

"I suppose it's the same at the start of every season, we want to win everything that we have entered, but this one might feel special," said Whittaker.

"We've won it twice since I came to Rangers and we want to keep a hold of it, and the feeling of winning the championship last year was special and all the players in the dressing room want that feeling again."

Hamilton almost put paid to the champions' cup run,

and according to Whittaker, the key moments were in the dressing room at half-time, when assistant manager Ally McCoist, who does the leading and talking on all Cup matches, was joined by manager Smith.

He explained: "We had to regroup at half-time, get our act together and try and get something out of the game, which we did. Coisty takes the team talks, but if the manager feels he needs to say something he will, but predominantly it's Coisty. The manager spoke a little bit but mostly it was Coisty who had his bit to say. Put it this way, they weren't just talking, so we knew we had to pick it up in the second half and we managed to force a replay."

Smith was less than happy at his men for their loss of three goals inside a few minutes.

"It wasn't the manner in which we lost the goals," said Smith, "it was just that we had not started the game as well as we wanted. It wasn't a matter of screaming and shouting, it was just a matter of trying to get everybody to settle down a wee bit and realise that we weren't playing the way we wanted."

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So the Treble dream is still on, as Smith stated: "You have to set out at the start of the season to do as well as you possibly can, and if people say 'are you aiming for a treble' then we have got to say 'yes, we are.'"

The Rangers manager is coping with what he calls the "challenge" of the club's straitened circumstances and said he was not envious of Celtic being able to bring in a new centre half.

"Celtic are doing what they think is best for their club at the present moment," said Smith. "For us, we just have to carry on and work under the circumstances we are working under. At the present moment we find ourselves with a wee bit of a lead in the championship, and we are still involved in the League Cup and the Scottish Cup, so it's a matter of trying to keep everything going.

"I don't have any envy or anything like that. I've been in the same circumstances on the opposite side of that coin. You just have to handle the circumstances as best as you possibly can."

The manager could not hide his disappointment at the news that teenagers Danny Wilson and John Fleck had refused new contracts and will go elsewhere.

"Agents deal with all that kind of stuff nowadays," said Smith, "and whether they have other things in mind for them, I don't know but it's a wee bit disappointing.

"It used to be that young lads had an excuse that they weren't getting the opportunity to play. Steven Pressley, for instance, came to me and said he wanted to play but we had Richard Gough and it was difficult for him to get a game. But these boys have been getting the opportunity to play. It happens – we've taken boys from smaller Scottish clubs before and the same thing happens in England, and I daresay that's where the people who are advising them want to take them to play. We just have to accept it and get on with it."

But one player who will definitely get an opportunity to shine in the next few weeks will be Kyle Lafferty, who Smith will play at centre-forward – "his position," said the manager – in the absence of the injured Kris Boyd.

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"He's had a couple of incidents he could have been doing without," said Smith. "On the field, the thing with (Aberdeen's Charlie] Mulgrew and the tackle on (Celtic's Andreas] Hinkel were not savoury incidents, and there have been a couple of incidents off the field he could have been doing without. But I would hope the incidents on and off the field will help him focus more on what he is actually here for which is to play the best he can and score goals."