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Football: Murray just mint for us, says Smith; EXCLUSIVE RANGERS v FALKIRK IBROX, 2pm.

Byline: By RAY HEPBURN

FIT-AGAIN Ian Murray can be the key to unlock a host of positions as Rangers manager Walter Smith surveys what's left of an injury-ravaged Ibrox squad.

The former Hibs skipper missed the first half of the season with reactive viral arthritis, but has gatecrashed his way into the side for stricken Stevie Smith in the last seven games.

The 25-year-old has laid a solid claim to the left-back position, but Smith may need him to fill in in different parts of the side as Rangers continue the search for a Champions League place.

And Murray is his man. For in five seasons at Easter Road, most of that time under Scotland boss Alex McLeish, he has turned out with distinction in all roles bar goalkeeper and striker.

Smith has Dado Prso and the retiring Stefan Klos just returning to full training, but Stevie Smith is out for a further six weeks, Andy Webster's recovery is slow, while last week's win at Kilmarnock was costly.

New signings Kevin Thomson and Ugo Ehiogu both limped out of the 3-1 win with hamstring injuries and, although they are pulls and not tears, short term absence is certain.

Boss Smith reasoned: "Ian has had a solid run of games at full-back for us, he is certainly a contender for the left-back position, but he can play in so many areas of the team for us.

"I made a decision in January that we would not bring in players during the window just for the sake of having bodies, but I didn't know that these injuries would pile up. On Wednesday we were down to just 14 experienced pros and, although that does not stop us putting out a good side, it restricts the choices markedly.

"Ian is comfortable in so many positions that I am sure he'll be a valuable player in the coming weeks. It is a huge help to have a reliable man in so many different roles.

"And I have been impressed by the way that he has come back from his absence. It was an illness after all and not an injury, it is not easy to pick up the pace midway through the campaign."

Rangers face Falkirk at Ibrox this afternoon, an SPL fixture delayed 24 hours by their 2-1 defeat in Israel by Hapoel Tel Aviv and Smith is still smarting at suggestions that football there is of a poor quality.

He countered: "It's nonsense to suggest that.

"Maccabi Haifa went to CSKA Moscow this week and drew, while their national team went through their World Cup Qualifying campaign unbeaten.

"You only have to look back at the results of the Israeli teams in the last few seasons and look at the teams who have struggled over there, including Arsenal, it is not an easy place to go.

"I didn't think there was a lot between the two teams.

"I felt they didn't deserved to win the first leg but, then again, nor did we but, in being disappointed, it's a good away result."

"The main thing is we've the chance to go through."

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BACK WITH A VENGEANCE: Ian Murray
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 18, 2007
Words:528
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