WALTER SMITH last night called on Scottish football’s top brass to repay the favour after Rangers secured the SPL a second Champions League slot.
The Ibrox manager saw his side come back from the dead in Portugal on Thursday night to send Sporting Lisbon crashing out of the Europa League.
And that dramatic triumph has ensured that our top flight will have the chance to send two teams into UEFA’s elite event from the season after next.
But Smith’s hopes of landing a third successive SPL crown in his final season in charge could now suffer as a result of those European heroics with a possible fixture pile-up now on the cards.
Rangers must squeeze at least another two ties, against PSV Eindhoven, into an already jammed schedule and league bosses have warned they would rather make the champions play four domestic matches in eight days than attempt to grant them breathing space by extending the season .
This was precisely the meltdown scenario Smith’side faced when they made it all the way to the UEFA Cup Final in 2008 – and they paid for it by blowing their title hopes.
The Rangers boss is attempting to claw back Celtic’s eight-point lead at the top and will also face two Old Firm matches, next week’s Scottish Cup replay then the League Cup Final, on either side of those Eindhoven clashes.
And he is determined his wafer-thin squad must not be further hindered by the beaks.
Smith said: “We are talking about starting the season earlier to help all our teams improve the co-efficient – but what are they doing at the end of the season? They’re not doing anything to help the teams at the end of the season .
“We’re not doing it for the good of the SPL – we’re doing it for the good of Rangers.
“What I mean is everyone else benefits except from us at the present moment.
“And we’re the team that has done as much as anyone over the last few seasons to try to keep the co-efficient as high as possible.
“If they’re going to try to help the teams by starting the season a fortnight or three weeks earlier, what are they going to do for the teams who are still in Europe at the end?
“We are the ones collecting more points than anyone else. With that in mind I’d want them to be a bit more sympathetic than they were the last time.
“That’s all I would ask. I appreciate the problem and I stress I’m not blasting anybody or anything like that.
“It’s awkward and I know it’s awkward but I just hope they’re a wee bit more sympathetic towards us than they were the last time.”
And Smith admits, after last week’s 3-0 defeat at Celtic, his players are now operating under the extra pressure of knowing one more slip-up could wreck their title chances.
The boss, whose side take on St Johnstone at Ibrox tomorrow, said: “There is no leeway if Celtic win all their games this season. But then again, there might be if we win all ours.
“We just find ourselves in a situation where we are points behind because of games we’ve still to play and that’s always an awkward circumstance. There is a pressure on you to be consistent.
“Celtic have a clear run at it this season with fixtures and they have a freshness about their team. But that’s a challenge we have to accept. We need to match that consistency over the season .
“But we have met that challenge head on for three years now. This is our fourth season of doing it.
“I read all about Celtic doing this and doing that this season and that’s fine. But then I’d say we did all that in our first season too.
“When you get to the fourth one and you’ve not had the ability to change an awful lot of players, then that’s difficult.
“Whatever comes our way in terms of criticism we’ll accept and take on the challenge by getting on with it.”
But Smith admits more than two years of crippling cost-cutting is taking an inevitable toll.
He said: “It is the club’s fault or maybe I should say it’s the fault of the people who are making policy decisions on behalf of the club.
“But whoever is to blame it does present us with a problem. By cutting the playing staff it means the more games we have to play the bigger the problem we are going to have.
“Maybe if I was 10 or 15 years younger I would have stayed on beyond the end of this season. But obviously not now.
“It’s the health of the club which is important. You do need a bigger group of players.”