Graeme Murty tells Rangers fans talk of a title challenge is ok

There could be all manner of appearances at Ibrox this afternoon to intrigue.

Bruno Alves, in training yesterday, is in line for his first Rangers appearance of 2018 this afternoon. Picture: SNS.

There is the potential for fit-again Bruno Alves to make his first Rangers outing this year. Former Hibernian striker Jason Cummings could also feature for the home side against a one-time rival he had a 
penchant for scoring against.

The presence of former Ibrox striker Steven Naismith in maroon, meanwhile, will bring a jeerfest from the home faithful still sore that the striker refused to transfer his contract over to the newco that emerged when the old Rangers were liquidated in 2012. Beyond that, there will be the presence of title-challenge optimism in the air after Rangers moved to within nine points of Celtic last weekend – the closest they have been to the top in a season’s third quarter since 2011-12.

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Graeme Murty’s men will attempt to improve on far from championship-winning home form to cut the gap to six points over a Celtic side not in action until they visit Aberdeen tomorrow. Rangers have lost five and only won six of 13 Premiership encounters at their own ground in this campaign but the Ibrox manager doesn’t consider that at odds with the notion of any title tilt. Talk of which is owed to the fact no team has taken more points on the road than them.

“People are taking points off one another in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened in the last few years,” said Murty, pictured. “Hibs have taken points off us, we’ve taken points off Aberdeen. Kilmarnock have taken points off Celtic. It is going to be down to fine margins.

“What we have to make sure is that we look at the season as a whole. Are we improving and getting closer to what we want to be doing?

“We are getting closer but we are not yet where we want to be. We are moving in the right direction but the evolution of this group will be revealed at the end. I think it’s good for the league that we are still talking about challenges and pressure at this time of the season.”

Murty is though “realistic” about Rangers’ prospects, while not wishing to dampen
any supporter enthusiasm that Celtic aren’t the untouchables they once seemed.

“If we are pushing towards the end of the season, it will be as a result of us concentrating solely on the next game,” he said. “That’s not me decrying anything or telling people not to think about it. Think about it all you want. But, in-house, we will purely be considering the next game.”

Only the negative will be directed towards Naismith, on loan at Hearts from Norwich City. “That’s between the fans and Steven,” Murty said. “I’m tapping into [Norwich loanee] Russell Martin about [former team-mates] Kyle Lafferty and Steven about what they do and what their mindset is going to be like.

“But as far as I’m concerned it’s about the players walking on to the pitch and dealing with whatever circumstances, the environment, and dealing with the challenges 
thrown up.”

Alves could be thrown a chance after it seemed he would depart during the January window – only injury perhaps preventing that. “Bruno has trained magnificently well,” Murty said. “He is a consummate professional. He is doing extras. The main thing that we have to do at times is to get him to do less. He has been fantastic in and around the place and we wouldn’t have any concerns whatsoever about putting him in.”