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By ESPN Staff

Tough call for Smith

Rangers manager Walter Smith admits he faces a tough choice deciding who he should hand the gloves to for their Premier League opener against Falkirk this weekend.

Neil Alexander is favourite to retain the number one jersey after a string of impressive performances helped Rangers win a domestic double last season - the SPL title and Homecoming Scottish Cup.

He was given his chance between the sticks in the latter part of the campaign when Allan McGregor was dropped following his role in the infamous "Boozegate'' affair which ended his Scotland career.

McGregor's future at Rangers had looked uncertain but pre-season appearances against Nuremberg, Arsenal and Portsmouth means he could be back in the reckoning despite his indiscretions with the national team.

Smith said: "We are in an excellent position in that we have two good goalkeepers but it's always difficult for a manager to make the decision on who plays.

"It is difficult in other areas of the field too because we have a number of players vying for positions.

"Both our boys have been excellent for us over the period they have been with us.

"Neil has come in towards the end of each of the last two seasons and has had to play in some very big matches and he has handled that situation.

"It's not easy to be sitting for a long spell and then get thrown in. So we are fortunate we have two goalkeepers and it's up to me to decide who plays.''

Smith believes Rangers will head into the new season far more prepared than they were this time 12 months ago in the wake of their humiliating Champions League defeat to Lithuanian minnows FBK Kaunas.

"I think the lads are ready,'' he said.

"We are looking forward to getting started this season in comparison to last year when there was a bit of trepidation after our exit from Europe.

"Coincidentally, our first SPL outing last year was also against Falkirk, away from home, and we managed to scrape our way through that game as we did in a number of the early matches.

"But now we are looking forward to getting going. There is a freshness about our group in comparison to last year.''

This time around, of course, Rangers head into the new campaign as defending champions and, according to Smith, face very different challenges as a result.

He told Rangers News: "It will be a special moment for the supporters when the flag goes up because they have not seen that for a few years. It's always nice to start the season in that manner.

"However, this season will be a big change for our boys because, for the past two seasons, they have been challengers.

"Sometimes it is a little bit easier to be a challenger than it is to be a champion.

"There was an extra pressure on us in trying to win the championship last season and there will be that little bit of extra pressure on Celtic to win it back.

"Similarly, there will be an extra pressure on us to defend the title so it's a big challenge for all of the boys because most of them haven't experienced that before.''


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