Daily Record


Gers give performanc­e Smith would have been proud of on second anniversar­y of his death


RANGERS fans awoke yesterday to tributes to the great man.

And they will have gone to bed last night dreaming about the best tribute their team could possibly have conjured to pay to Walter Smith.

The showdown with Sparta in the Czech capital fell on the second anniversar­y of the legendary Ibrox manager’s death.

It’s unclear if new boss Philippe Clement ever had the pleasure of making his acquaintan­ce.

But by the end of this stomach-churner it seemed like he’d had the spirit of Smith peering over his shoulder, given the way his heroic side put on a gritty display bearing all the hallmarks of the performanc­es his predecesso­r’s team once showed.

It wasn’t comfortabl­e. They had Jack Butland to thank at the interval. But Rangers clung on through the teeth of relentless

Prague pressure to claim a vital Europa League point.

It would have been fitting that sub Danilo was wearing a mask because make no mistake about it, it would have been a robbery had Gers snatched a win courtesy of the Brazilian’s late strike, which crashed against the bar.

But they merited the draw for their perseveran­ce alone.

Clement even dipped into Smith’s book of tricks, dusting down the old five-man backline that took the 2008 side all the way to Manchester.

And the tactic could well see Rangers through Group C, having now put their campaign back on track following their crash to Aris Limassol last time out.

Gers touched down in the

Czech Republic fearing trouble off the pitch and in the stands following the disgracefu­l scenes that were witnessed on their last visit here in 2021.

Sparta Prague were hoping for a “new chapter” in their difficult story with Rangers as they looked to move on from the vile treatment meted out to former stalwart Glen Kamara that night.

Sparta boss Brian Priske implored his fans to cut out the nonsense but the Prague ultras weren’t exactly in a mood to kiss and make up as they launched into a thunderous chant of “f*** you Rangers” a good 45 minutes before the teams had even emerged from the tunnel.

Thankfully, that was as far as the bad blood got and we were able to focus on the football. And the Ibrox side couldn’t afford to take their eyes off the home side for a second.

The Czech champions have only lost twice in 90 minutes this season and never at all at home to Scottish opposition.

With no recognised left-back available, Clement was forced into a change of shape as he switched to a three-man defence.

Ben Davies came in at the expense of Borna Barisic but it was on-form frontman Abdallah Sima who was asked to roam the length of the touchline.

Gers were still getting to grips with the new shape when Sparta ought to have taken a fifth-minute lead.

Veljko Birmancevi­c would emerge as the Czech’s biggest threat but Butland was his match as the winger burst into his box, clawing away his strike with one hand in superb style before getting both palms to the ball as

Qazim Laci raced in for the follow-up.

It was quickly evident Rangers were going to have to dig deep covering off the spaces Priske’s team were looking to pull apart.

But they were clinging on by the thinnest of margins.

Laci had Butland worried for a moment when his daisycutte­r ruffled the side netting.

Nico Raskin got the man of the match award in last week’s 4-0 demolition of Hibs but he was miles off it this time.

And the Belgian was grateful Butland was again on his toes as he surrendere­d possession just outside the box, with the keeper quick down to his right to push away a Laci effort.

But the shots kept coming as Birmancevi­c slammed just wide before rattling into John Souttar’s shins.

Rangers were surviving by the skin of their teeth. And they had to hold their breath when a Matej Rynes piledriver came through a ruck of bodies, forcing Butland to parry back into traffic.

Martin Vitik believed he was in for a tap-in before John Lundstram got a toe in to deny a certain goal.

After that 45 minutes, Gers trooped back to the dressing room for a muchneeded breather,

Clement’s ragged outfit had seen off 13 attempts on goal, having created only a wild Lundstram effort just before the whistle.

It took them only five minutes of the second half to summon up a second sighter. Todd Cantwell’s break from deep put Cyriel Dessers through on keeper Peter Vindahl Jensen but, as per usual, the summer signing took an age to get his shot off and the Dane managed to block.

Sparta weren’t hanging about reapplying the pressure, with Davies forced to clear off the line as Vitik thought he’d found the breakthrou­gh with a header from a corner. Jan Kuchta then knocked wide as another ball was allowed into Gers’ box.

Rangers were hoping by then they had taken the worst of Sparta’s sting.

Lundstram’s shot on the hour could have done with a little bit more venom as the Light Blues’ first meaningful shot was easily held by the keeper.

Losing Cantwell after he ran out of steam was a blow to the cause. His replacemen­t Scott Wright could have landed one on the Czechs’ ambitions but smashed an ugly strike high over Vindahl Jensen’s bar.

Sam Lammers – who had spent so much of the match flittering around the edges – almost put himself at the centre of the story as he produced a spin and shot destined for the top corner.

Cue Vindhal Jensen making a save every bit as key as any of Butland’s. He made another as he tipped Danilo’s late strike against the bar.

However, it was Clement’s side most relieved at full-time when Victor Olatunji fluffed a pass for Jakub Pesek, which would have left him an empty net to tap into.

 ?? ?? PHIL TIME Boss Clement at finish with Souttar and Davies as Danilo, left, reacts after hitting woodwork en route to point
PHIL TIME Boss Clement at finish with Souttar and Davies as Danilo, left, reacts after hitting woodwork en route to point
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 ?? ?? MISSING IN ACTION Dessers

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