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Page last updated at 21:03 GMT, Saturday, 30 May 2009 22:03 UK

Smith crowned Homecoming king

By Clive Lindsay

Walter Smith lifts the Scottish Cup at Hampden
Smith has led Rangers to their first league and cup double in six years

Victory over Falkirk in the Scottish Cup final has confirmed Walter Smith's place as Scotland's Homecoming king.

The one-time assistant to Alex Ferguson when the present Manchester United manager led the national team at the Mexico World Cup resurrected Scotland's fortunes after himself taking over from the much-maligned Berti Vogts.

Now, in his second spell as Rangers boss, the 61-year-old, originally brought in to steady an Ibrox ship that had been rocked from within under Paul le Guen, has secured the Glasgow club's first league and cup double in six years.

Nacho Novo's stunning winner apart, it might not have been pretty.

And the build-up to the game might have been overshadowed by the managerial skittles falling at Celtic, Aberdeen and Hibernian - never mind Susan Boyle's prospects of winning Britain's Got Talent.

Winning trophies is Rangers' demand

But it meant that Smith completed a rollercoaster season on top of his footballing world and could have dispelled any lingering doubts that he will lead the team when they begin the Champions League group stages next season.

It was perhaps appropriate that Falkirk should be the opponents. For it was during a league game against the Bairns in January when a section of the Rangers support unfurled "we deserve better" banners in protest at owner David Murray's attempts to sell players in order to reduce the club's debts.

Smith's side responded by overcoming a seven-point deficit and turned it into a four-point winning margin over reigning champions Celtic following an exhilarating 3-0 win over Dundee United on the final day of the Scottish Premier League season as their city rivals faltered against Hearts.

Rangers failed to reach those heights against Falkirk at Hampden. Indeed, the Bairns can count themselves unlucky not to have won the Scottish Cup for the first time since 1957, such was their dominance of possession and chances.

Walter Smith and John Hughes greet their players after the game
John Hughes' side were unfortunate to lose out in the final

Smith admitted that, similar to last season - when a Rangers side exhausted by their journey to the losers' enclosure at the Uefa Cup final came close to a shock defeat by First Division Queen of the South - Sunday's championship victory had probably taken its toll.

However, the record books will simply show that his team have lifted four of the six available domestic trophies since his return to Ibrox, which is all the more notable because this season started with a disastrous Champions League qualifying defeat by the Lithuanians of Kaunas.

During those darker moments, attention has turned to thoughts of a pending succession for the sorcerer's apprentice, Ally McCoist.

The assistant manager has been the public face of Rangers' cup run. But, when the chips were down and Rangers toiled to hold on to their lead against a red-hot Falkirk in Hampden's baking sunshine, there was little doubt who was still in charge as Smith rushed down from the stand to rant, rave and go purple with rage from the sidelines.

Novo and Bougherra savour Cup success

Whichever of them chose to withdraw top scorer Kris Boyd at half-time and replace him with Novo pulled off a match-winning masterstroke and left Falkirk with only memories of what might have been - and of an emotional season when they too toyed with disaster before finishing with heads held high.

John Hughes' side were 90 minutes away from relegation and the manager had been the subject of a letter to the board by a section of fans calling for his head.

However, a 1-0 win away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle last weekend lifted them off the bottom of the table and sent their opponents down to Division One in the process.

Falkirk boss John Hughes urges on his side
Hughes has become a wanted man after a troubled season

The Government-sponsored year-long Homecoming campaign was designed to showcase what is good about Scotland. And, while Rangers' best performers were from foreign shores, Falkirk's leading role in the Homecoming Scottish Cup proved that Scotland's got talent too.

Hughes began his coaching career as joint manager of the Bairns with Owen Coyle and it would have been an amazing coincidence had the 44-year-old led his team to Scottish Cup victory only days after his former team-mate won promotion to England's Premier League with Burnley.

Both are now not only being lauded for their love of passing football but are being touted for summer moves: Coyle being the man wanted by his beloved Celtic and Hughes, who can next season experience European football with the Bairns, once more being linked with his former club, Hibs, along with Aberdeen.

Time will tell where their futures lie. One thing is certain though: the Scottish Cup has returned to a home it has shared on 32 previous occasions.



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see also
Smith hails Novo's winning strike
30 May 09 |  Rangers
Hughes proud of beaten finalists
30 May 09 |  Falkirk
Rangers 1-0 Falkirk
30 May 09 |  Scottish Cups
Ferguson wants to stay at Rangers
24 May 09 |  Rangers


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