Steven Naismith has no desire to rest and be thankful

IN THE context of their team's trip to Ibrox tonight, it should chill Hibernian supporters to hear that Steven Naismith considers he has rediscovered the form that coaxed Rangers to pay Kilmarnock £1.9 million for him in August 2007.

The striker was yesterday named the Clydesdale Bank Player of the Month for October and said he hadn't stepped his level up so much as got himself back on track. For "the first time" at the Glasgow club, he said he is enjoying his football, scoring goals and putting in the sort of performances that seemed to come easily to him as a teenager of rich promise at Rugby Park.

Something else that didn't appear problematic for Naismith in those days was scoring goals against Hibs. He netted four times in a couple of seasons in these matches. The attacker's only goal for Rangers against tonight's opponents came in his early months at Ibrox. Naismith's progress was then hampered by seven months out with a cruciate injury but he is now making his presence count and was a shoo-in for the latest player of the month award after crucial counters against Bursaspor, Hearts, Motherwell, Kilmarnock and, on Sunday, St Mirren. He also scored a memorable goal for Scotland against Spain.

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"I didn't really realise the pressures that would come playing for Rangers," he said. "I thought I could just move up the road, play every week. But it's totally different and it is much harder to deal with. Probably a mixture of that and getting injured has held me back, but I feel as if I'm playing my best football since I came and really enjoying it."

Naismith was rested, from the start at least, for the champions' last home game. It just so happened that Inverness Caledonian Thistle become the only league opponents to take points off Walter Smith's men this season. Even with the relentless nature of the fixture juggling between Champions League and SPL, Naismith doesn't want to be handled with care - and that extends to Scotland's friendly with the Faroe Islands next week.

"I feel really good, the best I've felt, and want to be involved all the time," he said. "When the team's doing well and you are scoring a few goals you just want to keep going and keep playing games because your confidence is really high.

"It is one of the best feelings going to play for your country and I don't think I would ever say 'I don't want to come on this trip or that'. If I can make the trips for Scotland I'll definitely be there. It's such a privilege. Under Craig Levein there is a great feeling within the squad, everybody feels comfortable and all the boys are getting on pretty well, so it's a really good trip when you go away as well."

It is just like the thing that as soon as a young Scottish player - Naismith is now 24 - starts to fulfil his promise, there is speculation he could be spirited away to England."I still have 18 months on my contract," Naismith said. "I'm not going to sit here and say I'm going in to talk about a new deal, I'm just happy to play. If Rangers want to talk about a new deal that's great and I'd definitely be interested, but there are guys at the club everyone wants tied down before myself."

Naismith accepts Rangers might be getting weighed down with the strains the Champions League has placed on their small squad. His manager has suggested his team has lost its edge lately and that has not been lost on the forward, who describes the visit of Hibs and the hosting of Aberdeen on Saturday as "massive games".

"When we did score against Inverness we were a bit flat afterwards," Naismith admitted. "It is a mental thing because you don't notice it when you are playing, but we do need to work on it. We were also slow to start against Motherwell and it was the same at St Mirren."

There is flat and then there is Hibs, though. They have lost all three games under new manager Colin Calderwood, and were pitiful in Sunday's derby defeat. "Hibs, and Aberdeen, are two teams desperate for a result to kick-start their season," Naismith said. "I'm sure they will be thinking there is no better place than Ibrox to get that so we need to be on top form."

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Rangers manager Smith spoke too of avoiding a lapse similar to Inverness when Hibs come calling. Yet, he knows it is not that simple when essentially the same 14 players are being asked to go out and perform every three to four days.

"I can complain about the edge coming off the team, but I can understand it when we have a small group and can't really change things round," Smith said. "It is very difficult for our players to play at that high level. It is not an excuse for them, but there is a relevant reason and that is what makes the approach to Champions League games difficult. So far, we've been OK, but we've been a bit flat in periods of several matches."

Smith, though, could spare a thought for his Easter Road counterpart this evening. Hibs have been flatlining for just about the entire season and, thus far, the new man has appeared powerless to change it.

"It is always awkward when you take over a team after two-and-a-half months of the season and you'd like to bring in a player or two," Smith said of Calderwood. "Any changes you make involve just shuffling around the group you've got because you can't sign anyone until January. Obviously, Colin is going to get a better knowledge of the players he's got as the games go by. Hibs always acquit themselves well against us. The two games against Hibs at Ibrox last season were excellent matches. I don't see why this will be any different."

Chance would be a fine thing, a despairing Easter Road support would retort.