Will It Be Firhill For Thrills - And Surprises?

By Ed_ScottishFitba
Last updated : 13 April 2008

Hot on their success against Sporting Lisbon, Rangers head to Firhill to try to maintain their interest in the remaining three competitions on offer. A Scottish Cup quarter final replay is not something to be given scant attention as Partick Thistle showed they were no pushovers in the first game at Ibrox. Manager Walter Smith must decide which version of his side to put out today against Partick as he tries to ease the pressure on his players after a 2-0 win in Portugal saw Rangers through to the last four of the UEFA Cup. David Weir is back in contention after he missed the European tie through suspension, while Charlie Adam is still sidelined with a knee injury. Steven Naismith believes today's game is the perfect opportunity for the fringe players to earn a place in Walter Smith's plans for a dramatic run in to the end to the season. Everyone at Ibrox is desperate to play a part in what could be an incredible season. Naismith is one of those players seeking any opportunity to impress the manager. He has been disappointed that he has not played as much as he would have liked since his summer move from Kilmarnock and has vowed to seize his chance if given the nod at Firhill.

Naismith said: "
The games are coming so thick and fast that we just need to concentrate on each game. Whoever plays against Partick Thistle on Sunday will need to go out and earn the right to play and hopefully score a few goals and win it comfortably. There may be changes to the side for this one so whoever gets the shout will be looking to show the manager he's worthy of a place - show that they can come into the side in some of the other games if needed. Hopefully on Sunday if I get a game I can do that. There is so much to play for in every game at the moment. It's a massive time and it's about everyone playing their part when called upon. The manager has said that all along with the size of the squad he has available to him." Naismith feels the draw against Partick has been the only real blot on the copybook in recent weeks after Kris Boyd was called upon to rescue Rangers from suffering an embarrassing exit. Naismith was involved at Ibrox that night and is determined to make amends at the second time of asking. He said: "We were on a good run at that time and had built up a good reputation. To go and play as poorly as we did against Partick Thistle was disappointing. We let ourselves down badly that night with the performance. We've got another opportunity now so hopefully we can turn it around and get a comfortable win at Firhill."

Partick Thistle boss Ian McCall rested six players - Gary Harkins, David Rowson, Scott Chaplain, Mark Roberts, Marc Twaddle and William Kinniburgh - in midweek against Stirling Albion, but they are all back in the squad for today's visit of Rangers. He will, however, have to cope without the services of top scorer Liam Buchanan and defender Alan Archibald - who are both out for the rest of the season. Archibald suffered a cruciate injury and will be sidelined for around seven months whilst Buchanan has failed to recover from a groin injury. McCall remains convinced that his junior players can defy the gulf in class and experience to provide a shock result at Firhill. Rangers face a hectic schedule over the next six weeks and must cope with the physical strain of their exertions at home and in Europe, with a UEFA Cup semi-final against Fiorentina less than a fortnight away.

Thistle have a strong home record and McCall has put in the hours at the tactics board in a bid to maintain Thistle's cup run against the odds. One of the youngest Thistle sides ever fielded for a competitive game beat Stirling Albion 1-0 on Tuesday, and McCall said: "
Losing Archibald is a potential problem. Perhaps he and Liam Buchanan have been two of our best players this season, so it's not ideal to have them out - but we have some cover. The young guys, Ricky Little, Pedram Ardalany and Graeme Eaglesham, all did themselves proud the other night, while I have moved John Robertson into the centre of defence for the past three matches, and we have only conceded one goal and won two out of the three games."

Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba.net)

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