We must make most of Ibrox pres­sure pot, in­sists Smith

For­mer Rangers player has ex­pe­ri­enced sup­port­ers’ ire and hopes Kil­marnock can use it to their ad­van­tage

The Herald - Herald Sport - - LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP - STE­WART FISHER

STEVEN SMITH knows all too well what this group of Rangers play­ers are go­ing through. The sick feel­ing in the pit of your stom­ach as 50,000 sup­port­ers ex­pect the world but things aren’t quite click­ing. The pres­sure which builds and builds through­out the 90 min­utes, the knowl­edge that an­other cou­ple of dropped points just won’t do.

As much of a ben­e­fit as a vo­cif­er­ous home crowd in Go­van can be when things are go­ing well, home draws against Hamil­ton, Ross County and St Johnstone em­pha­sise the pit­falls. The Kil­marnock mid­fielder, part of the squad un­der Ally McCoist and Stu­art McCall as Rangers missed out on pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier­ship in 201415, has been on the re­ceiv­ing end of­ten enough. So he knows the for­mula re­quired to ratchet the pres­sure up a fur­ther few notches as he re­turns there as an op­po­si­tion player this Satur­day. Re­gard­less of the in-fight­ing which con­tin­ues in the board­room, Kil­marnock have qui­etly racked up seven points from the last nine, cul­mi­nat­ing in a com­pre­hen­sive vic­tory on Wed­nes­day against Hearts.

“I know what it’s like to be a Rangers player when you’re un­der pres­sure – you need to be brave to be pre­pared to go and take the ball in that en­vi­ron­ment,” said Smith. “Our game plan will be to go and keep things tight for 10-15 min­utes and then, hope­fully, the crowd turns on them – I’ve seen them do it when I was there. That’s when the pres­sure ramps up on them and it be­comes harder for them to take pos­ses­sion and do some­thing.

“That’s when you learn a lot about your­self and about the size of the club you’re play­ing for,” he added. “The ex­pec­ta­tion lev­els are re­ally high so, when the crowd are on your back and things aren’t go­ing well, it says a lot about any player if they’re pre­pared to de­mand the ball and try to make some­thing hap­pen. Of course, they have some great play­ers and I’m sure they’ll try and do that but we’re go­ing there to try and win the game.

“Of course we can do that – and it’ll be about work-rate again. With the way Rangers play it’ll be all about what we do with­out the ball. Then, when we get pos­ses­sion, we’ve got to pun­ish them. It’s a great oc­ca­sion and a fab­u­lous sta­dium to go and play in and we’re look­ing for­ward to it, es­pe­cially after our re­sult against Hearts.”

While Smith scored a fine clinch­ing goal on Wed­nes­day night him­self, the club’s main goal threat th­ese days ap­pears to be Souley­mane Coulibaly, the ec­cen­tric 21-year-old Ivo­rian who has scored nine goals in 15 ap­pear­ances this sea­son, with­out a tap-in amongst them. The for­mer Siena and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur at­tacker – who mem­o­rably beat Celtic’s Dorus de Vries from all of 45 yards – has been one of the play­ers of this cam­paign, and ty­ing him up on a con­tract un­til the sum­mer of 2019 al­ready ap­pears a shrewd piece of busi­ness by the Ayr­shire side. As un­ortho­dox as the player’s skill set is, Smith feels he could be des­tined for great things.

“He can go as far as he wants,” said the for­mer Rangers player about his free-scor­ing team-mate, who marks his goals with an elab­o­rate back som­er­sault. “I can imag­ine he’ll be quite frus­trat­ing for the man­ager at times be­cause not ev­ery­thing he tries comes off but when you score with over­head kicks the way he does or ping one in from 30 or 40 yards then all bets are off.

“The big­gest thing for any player is sheer hard graft but when you have that some­thing spe­cial in your locker even when you’re not play­ing well you can pro­vide a bit of magic,” he added. “That’s mas­sive and we’re just de­lighted to have him. He was a great find and he’s been a ter­rific sign­ing for us. He’s a good lad as well and we en­joy hav­ing him around the place.

“He’s a bit un­usual, mind. I read in the match pro­gramme that he speaks three lan­guages but I’m not sure English is one of them! But he’s al­ready scored two or three con­tenders for Goal of the Sea­son – not to men­tion Cel­e­bra­tion of the Sea­son as well!”

Iron­i­cally Kil­marnock’s pur­ple patch comes at a time when the board­room con­tains riven with in­fight­ing, but Smith is re­fus­ing to let off-field mat­ters blow the play­ers off course.

“I can only speak from my per­sonal point of view but I’m the cap­tain and I don’t know what’s go­ing on,” said Smith. “That’s the truth – it’s not that I don’t take any in­ter­est but I just try and block it out be­cause it can only be nega­tive and, as play­ers, we can’t af­fect it. Some oth­ers might be dif­fer­ent but I don’t take any no­tice of it and just try to con­cen­trate on the games be­cause they’re the most im­por­tant thing for us.”

SALT IN THE WOUND: Ste­vie Smith is keen to put the boot into a strug­gling Rangers side on his re­turn.

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