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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

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By ESPN Staff

Smith won't be drawn on Rangers' V-Sign duo

Rangers manager Walter Smith will keep everyone guessing as to whether Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor will be involved in Sunday's Scottish Premier League game against Hibernian.

Smith performed a surprising U-turn when he revealed earlier this week the duo were back in his plans having previously told journalists their Ibrox careers were over as a result of their behaviour while on international duty with Scotland.

Both have already been told they are unlikely to represent the national team again and their club careers also appeared to be over after Smith reacted furiously to the V-signs incident, which followed a drinking session at the team hotel.

But Ferguson and McGregor were both back at Murray Park on Friday, albeit the deposed skipper did not train with the rest of the squad.

Match fitness is likely to be a problem for both players ahead of Sunday's trip to Easter Road but Smith was remaining tight-lipped when quizzed about their involvement this weekend.

''The topic is dead and buried,'' he said. ''The players are back and are available for selection. Whether they will be selected or not is down to me. You'll have to wait and see.

''They have actually been out for a bit longer than a fortnight because they didn't play in the international game on the Wednesday.

''They haven't had any action so they will need a few days training. It's not a major problem with fitness but they certainly need a top up.''

Rangers have taken maximum points from games against Falkirk, St Mirren and Motherwell in the pair's absence but Smith dismissed any suggestions the team is just as strong without the influential duo.

''They have played all season and one was the captain and the other was the permanent goalkeeper so you can't say that we were stronger,'' he said.

''We played three games without them and managed to win the three games but you can't say that we were stronger by the fact that we lost them.''

Rangers head into the weekend action trailing Celtic by a single point in the title race. And, asked whether his change of heart was motivated by points or principle, Smith replied: ''There is a bit of both involved in the decision.

''I never made it public in the first place that they would never play for Rangers again. What I did do was say it off the record, which led the press to speculate.

''That prompted me, after a week or 10 days or so and having seen what happened, to say that it was something I would think about again. The players suffer embarrassment because of what they have done but it's Rangers who suffer.

''One of the things that made me think again was that the SFA were quick to say it wasn't their fault for any aspect of it.

''And, while they are not responsible for the players' actions, their reaction to it is something - they have admitted themselves - that they didn't handle properly.

''That was one of the things that made me think again but there were a number of aspects I had to take into consideration.

''I have stressed that the SFA are not at fault. The situation was wholly the fault of the players and we took action on it and then we were left with the aftermath.

''It seemed to me that Rangers were the only ones who were suffering and it happened when they were outwith our own control.''

While it has been well-documented that other players were involved in the drinking session which sparked the whole furore, Smith refused to brand Ferguson and McGregor scapegoats.

''I don't think there was anything unfair about it,'' he said. ''They did what they did and they've got to accept that.''

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