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Page last updated at 23:19 GMT, Wednesday, 23 February 2011

European lifeline for Rangers

Uefa Europa League, round of 32 second leg: Sporting v Rangers
Venue: Estádio José Alvalade Date: Thursday, 24 February Kick-off: 1800 GMT
Coverage: BBC Sport website, BBC Radio Scotland 810mw

Rangers train in the Alvalade Stadium
Rangers are hoping for a change of fortunes in the Alvalade Stadium

By Alasdair Lamont
BBC Scotland in Lisbon

It is a measure of the fragile balance of power that exists in Scottish football - more specifically between the rival members of the Old Firm - that Sunday's 3-0 defeat by Celtic seemed to cast an immediate cloud of doom over Rangers.

Outclassed in that match, the eight-point gap opened up as a result led many to conclude that Rangers are a spent force.

The subsequent confirmation that Ally McCoist will succeed Walter Smith as the manager at Ibrox in the summer - the timing of which was clearly intended as a diversionary tactic - has failed to lighten the mood among some supporters.

Of those, there is a section unconvinced that McCoist is the man to lead the club once Smith steps down. There are others who feel that the identity of the manager is of secondary importance relative to the apparent financial woes of the club.

Paradoxically, all of this unfolds as Rangers prepare for their first post-Christmas European trip since their run to the 2008 Uefa Cup final.

There were portents of the gloom to come when, last Thursday, the Scottish champions conceded a late equaliser in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 match against Sporting Lisbon.

Ally McCoist and coach Ian Durrant
McCoist (left) will succeed Walter Smith as boss next season

A 1-0 lead to take to the Portuguese capital would have given far more cause for optimism as far as progress is concerned, but the timing of that Matias Fernandez goal at Ibrox felt weightier than simply the concession of an away goal in Europe.

That may be reading too much into it, but the display against Celtic did point towards a mental tiredness as well as physical fatigue.

Ask any Rangers player and they will tell you they would rather play than train and the number of games their small squad face in a short period of time is not an issue for them.

The media know to expect such a positive spin to be used by the team and the management, although Walter Smith conceded recently that it would be advantageous to Celtic in the title race if Rangers had to play four games in eight days, as has been suggested.

That won't happen if Rangers lose to Sporting Lisbon on Thursday. But, if the feel-good factor is to return, the first step towards that would be a repeat of the result and performance the last time they played in the Alvalade Stadium.

Gers must bounce back - Edu

While that Uefa Cup run is largely remembered for stubborn defensive displays, the 2-0 win in Lisbon in the quarter-final was among the most vibrant, with Steven Whittaker's late solo strike encapsulating that.

Sporting have problems similar, though in truth more acute, to Rangers, with a massive debt and no chance of winning the league, particularly on the back of a derby defeat by Benfica on Monday, so they will also be looking for a pick-me-up.

Reports in the Portuguese media state their coach Paulo Sergio will be sacked if Sporting fail to progress in the Europa League.

That fate won't befall Smith should Rangers fall at this hurdle. But, psychologically, defeat could be damaging.

Conversely, a victory could breathe new life into the weary-looking squad as they continue to battle on four fronts for honours.

Follow Alasdair Lamont on Twitter

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see also
Gers boss not after full-time job
23 Feb 11 |  Rangers
Sporting 2-2 Rangers (agg 3-3)
24 Feb 11 |  Rangers
Gers boss delighted to progress
24 Feb 11 |  Rangers
Edu backs McCoist timing at Ibrox
23 Feb 11 |  Rangers
McCoist to become Rangers manager
22 Feb 11 |  Rangers
Chick Young's view
22 Feb 11 |  Scottish Premier


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