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Blame me not Coisty; WALTER: I'LL TAKE THE RAP IF OUR CAMPAIGN ENDS IN HEARTBREAK.

Byline: Keith Jackson

WALTER SMITH last night insisted manager-in-waiting Ally McCoist must be exempt from all blame should Rangers end the season without silverware.

The outgoing Ibrox boss spoke here in Portugal ahead of tonight's Europa League salvage mission against Sporting Lisbon - less than 24 hours after McCoist was confirmed as his end-of-season replacement.

The pair still have a quadruple trophy haul to aim for as Smith's last season at the helm reaches the critical final three-month stage.

McCoist stated at his own unveiling on Tuesday that he plans to help his mentor bow out with a bang.

But Rangers have hit a form slump and Smith has made it clear he alone must carry the can for what happens from here on in.

The 62-year-old said: "I take the responsibility for everything currently happening at Rangers.

"If we are not doing as well as people think we should be doing then it is MY responsibility to rectify it.

"That is our focus between now and the end of the season .

"We've tried hard to handle the circumstances which have surrounded the club over the past few years and we will continue to try hard to handle them.

"If you are successful then you've managed to do that, if you are not then you haven't. It's that simple.

"But ultimately the manager carries the responsibility for what happens."

Smith will hope the confirmation of McCoist's appointment will help galvanise the group he has brought here for tonight's second leg at the Jose Alvalade Stadium .

Rangers blew the chance to take a 1-0 lead from Ibrox when they lost a sloppy late equaliser last week and have since been turned over spectacularly by title rivals Celtic who have now opened up an eight-point gap at the top of the SPL.

So Smith could do with a bit of a bounce f rom the t iming of McCoist's unveiling .

He said: "You don't know how an announcement like Tuesday's will affect the rest of this season.

"I made it clear a year ago that I was leaving at the end of the season so I don't think it affects anyone's focus or whatever.

"The playing side of it is the biggest thing. Maybe I do hope now it might affect the playing side and we might get a bit better than we have been recently.

"We've got a big game against Sporting and next week we'll try to stay in the Scottish Cup.

"The week after that we'll try to win the League Cup and then we'll try to find the consistency that will help us win the championship.

"It was maybe natural that, going into January, the first half of the season would have an affect.

"Champions League games always take a lot out of teams so we have to hope we can pick up and get back to a reasonable level of form over the next few weeks.

"I've said that, since January, our form has been patchy. We are struggling for consistency. So that is what we need to try to work towards in the last part of the season."

Smith's paltry squad was boosted yesterday when youngster Kyle Hutton declared himself fit enough to travel while Neil Alexander reported for duty despite his wife being heavily pregnant.

Smith - who is without the likes of Davie Weir, Lee McCulloch, Steven Naismith, Nikica Jelavic, Jamie Ness and Kirk Broadfoot - said: "We should have enough players to fill the bench so it's not just as bad as it could have been.

"We know we need to score over here but our tactics will be dictated by the players we have available."

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I'LL CARRY CAN: Smith
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 24, 2011
Words:616
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