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Wins ground out peppered the season for Rangers

THE narrative has been that Rangers are on a "journey" from the lower divisions to the SPFL Premiership but at times it has felt like an imprisonment to them.

Steven Smith is convinced this Rangers squad would be able to stand up to the challenge of the Championship. Picture: SNS
Steven Smith is convinced this Rangers squad would be able to stand up to the challenge of the Championship. Picture: SNS

The last of their 36 matches in League 1 will be ticked off in Dunfermline this afternoon. The league season has been a breeze for the Ibrox side, they have a win rate of 94% and have not lost once.

The likelihood of going through the campaign unbeaten has caused some excitement among the younger elements but the older heads retain a sense of perspective. Take Steven Smith. At 28, Smith is a veteran of Champions League nights and Old Firm derbies, and a league and League Cup winner in his first spell at Rangers under Walter Smith. When Smith was asked to reflect on Rangers second full season in the lower leagues he did so with impressive candour.

"There probably hasn't been one outstanding performance. It's been about grinding out wins," he said. "It has felt like a grind, at times, it really has. At this club you're going to get a lot of criticism. You can win 6-0 and still get criticised, that's the nature of being here. So sometimes it feels like a grind. But we've ground it out and achieved our aim to get out of the division.

"At the start of the season our aim was to get out of the division. We didn't imagine we'd go through the whole season undefeated. It was probably expected of us, because of the division we're in, but it's not as easy as that. If we do it, it's not something we're going to shout from the rooftops about. But it's a decent achievement. We are expected to win four, five or six nothing every week. But football is not as simple as that.

"If people want to say it's a great achievement then that's nothing to do with us. When we signed for Rangers nobody told us we were the best players in the world. We're here to do a job. If we got through this season undefeated that's a big part of the job completed."

Rangers won their first 15 league games, drew one, won the next eight, drew one, then won the next eight again. Smith had to think about it when he was asked if one performance stood out - he came up with a 4-3 win at Brechin City in October, when Rangers fought back from being 3-0 down.

Ally McCoist has spoken of the need to strengthen the Rangers squad ahead of the more demanding tests posed by Championship opposition next season. The chief executive Graham Wallace made a similar point about what awaits in the second tier.

Smith sounded more bullish than either of them. "If the manager can bring players in that only helps us. But I would be very confident going into the Championship with this squad," he said.

"We have been installed as favourites and I think that's fair if you look at the size of the club and where we want to go. I've said before: no matter the standard, I would be confident of playing anyone at Ibrox. I was the same when we played Dundee United in the Scottish Cup semi-final. People made out that they were favourites but I was confident we could do a job on them. It didn't work out that way [United won 3-1] but I would still fancy ourselves against any team in the country.

"The Championship will be more exciting. There's a lot to look forward to. Obviously Hearts coming down is something, they're a massive club, and we don't know if another Premiership team might join them. It's going to be an exciting league. After grinding our way through this one we'll look forward to the next.

"It will feel more like normality for us. When we were driving to the Dundee United game in the cup you noticed a difference. Your own personal motivation goes up a level. It's probably been difficult for some of the boys here this year.

"Sometimes it hasn't been pretty but if you look at the reaction of the crowd when we played Dundee United, there was a bit of light - a bit of hope - there. We didn't get a result but, up against one of the best teams in the country, we more than matched them. It just proved that there are a lot of good players here. With another year of playing for this club, dealing with the criticism, they'll get better.

"It will be a lot tougher than this year and we'll probably have to work a lot harder. I would be more than confident of going into the next division and getting out of it."

Rangers are liable to leave East End Park having further enhanced statistics which currently stand at 33 wins out of 35, 105 goals scored, a goal difference of plus 88 (next best is second-placed Dunfermline themselves, on plus 14), 101 points and a lead of 39 over their nearest "challenger". For the others, Rangers' grind has been relentless.

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