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LEE McCULLOCH insists only one thing will heal the painful scars of Rangers' Champions League failure - a second successive SPL crown that will earn them a place back at Europe's top table.

The Ibrox star last night offered a frank and honest appraisal of his team's shortcomings.

Tuesday's passionless 2-0 home defeat by Stuttgart put an end to any flickering chances of a place in the final 16.

To add insult to injury, hopes of a consolation Europa League spot also disappeared with bottom spot in the section assured.

McCulloch knows the campaign fell miles short of expectations but believes happiness on the home front can go a long way to easing the agony of the failed Euro bid.

Despite their rockiness in Europe, Rangers sit top of the SPL and have lost just one domestic game in the calendar year.

It's an impressive statistic and McCulloch believes maintaining such high standards on the home front will bring smiles back to Ibrox.

He said: "We're still in three tournaments here and to be successful again is the main aim.

"We're the champions and Rangers haven't defended that successfully as a club for a number of years so there's an incentive right away.

"We just have to sweep the Champions League campaign right under the carpet and realise it can still be a big season.

"We disappointed the fans who paid for the Ibrox games because our two 1-1 draws were away from home and we can't be happy.

"Now it is all about the SPL and two cups. Winning the title is what matters now and, if we do that, we can have another crack at the Champions League.


"Maybe no more Europe will be a blessing in disguise. We know what we have to do in Scotland and it's a matter of doing it on the park.

"We've won trophies for the past two seasons and the league games are the ones that matter now.

"There's no reason why we can't defend our title successfully.

"I believe we are the only team in Britain without a league defeat so we must take heart from that."

Raking over the subtleties of their failure would serve no purpose for McCulloch or the rest of Smith's squad and the former Motherwell man preferred to stare at bare facts.

Rangers at times looked out of their depth in the Champions League and he added: "I don't think formations or tactics came into it.

"We showed Stuttgart too much respect and the Unirea game was even worse.

"The expectations were to get two wins against Unirea but that never happened and they were a good team.

"I don't have a clue why we've performed like that. Is it different standards? Different formations? I don't have answers.

"But I honestly believe it wasn't down to that - we just had to do better than we did.

"We did well at home in past Champions League campaigns but this time we were better away which is disappointing. The gaffer changed his tactics for Stuttgart so we could get at them but it didn't work out.

"Anyway, it wasn't down to the tactics. It was down to the players not getting close enough to them. We were off the pace."

It was a sorry way for a sorry campaign to end but Aberdeen would be the perfect place to rekindle enthusiasm among the Ibrox punters.

The Dons have a habit of making life difficult for Rangers at Pittodrie and the Saturday lunchtime cracker will test Ibrox resolve.

McCulloch insists it is up to the players to banish the memories of the Stuttgart flop and maintain their astounding domestic record.

He said: "Europe is over and we need to look to Pittodrie. We must show character and we have done that this season.

"Whenever we have had a bad result we have responded and Saturday is a massive game. It is always big at Aberdeen and we've had many hard games there.

"But if we could get a victory it would lift everyone right away and put pressure on Celtic, too."

Perhaps the biggest danger to Rangers in the title race is Lloyds Banking Group demanding the sale of a player or two in January but McCulloch swears the attention of the squad will not be diverted by off-field matters.

He said: "I don't know the ins and outs. That will be up to the club and manager.

"January is out of our hands and we have to concentrate on our jobs as players.

"We would want to keep everyone together for a title challenge but those higher up will decide. We've had a couple of injuries but we have young guys who have come in such as DannyWilson and John Fleck.

"If they are thrown in, I don't think we've much to worry about and the financial talk has brought us all together a wee bit closer.

"It is not something we talk about a lot but we just have to be strong and stick together.

"Against Stuttgart, we were poor on and off the ball but the team spirit in this group is good and hopefully we will kick on."


IDEAL HOMES: McCulloch insists if Rangers continue to battle away like he did against Stuttgart keeper Jens Lehmann on Wednesday night, Euro results will improve at Ibrox
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 26, 2009
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