Cash-strapped Rangers braced for Celtic assault
Glasgow: Rangers star Steven Whittaker believes the club has a strong enough squad to successfully defend their Scottish Premier League title even if they don’t sign any new players.
The champions, who open the defence of their title against Kilmarnock at Ibrox on Saturday, haven’t signed a player in two years due to financial problems but manager Walter Smith has been handed a modest transfer budget this summer after several first-team players left the club.
The Gers manager is hopeful of tying up deals for Stoke’s James Beattie and Portsmouth winger Tommy Smith before the season kicks off.
And while admitting Rangers are light on players, utility man Whittaker, who chipped in with 11 goals mostly from defence last season, believes his side can clinch a third title in a row regardless of who signs on at Ibrox.
“The manager and the rest of his staff have been working hard to try and get some new faces in and it appears as though we are very close to making some signings, which is great,” said Whittaker.
“You want to be part of as strong a squad as possible and the more quality players we can get, the better. Everyone knows we have lost some important players this summer and we are a bit light at the moment.
“However, we still feel we have a strong team, and if we can get some new players in, then even better.”
At Parkhead, Celtic boss Neil Lennon has wasted no time in putting his own stamp on the club having brought in seven new players and letting several leave.
And Whittaker knows Rangers will face a tough challenge from their Old Firm foes.
“Celtic have signed a lot of new players this summer and we are obviously expecting a tougher challenge from them. And there are other clubs in the SPL who will be hoping to improve and be up there challenging,” Whittaker said.
“So we really have it all to do again this season. But that was also the case last season and look what we managed to do.
“So, hopefully, we can repeat that again this term and retain the championship for a third successive season.”
Celtic make the trip north to take on the newly-promoted Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the early kick-off.
Irish winger Aiden McGeady may be on his way to Spartak Moscow but they could have a star replacement in the form of Craig Bellamy as they negotiate a loan deal for the Manchester City man.
Bellamy played 12 matches on loan at Celtic in 2005, scoring seven times.
“How far down the line we are will be down to Craig obviously,” said Lennon.
“But the advantage we have is that, one, it’s not in the Premier League and, two, he has been here before and he enjoyed his time and made a huge impact on the game and has a real connection with the supporters.”
Captain Scott Brown should recover from an ankle knock that saw him sit out the Scotland game in midweek.
Elsewhere on Saturday Aberdeen welcome Hamilton to Pittodrie with new club captain Paul Hartley expected to make his competitive debut.
Hearts open the season with a match against St Johnstone at Tannadice.
Jambos boss Jim Jefferies has strengthened well in the summer and could partner new signings Kevin Kyle and Stephen Elliott up front if they pass fitness tests.
Danny Lennon faces a tough start to his competitive career as St Mirren boss as he welcomes Scottish Cup holders Dundee United to Paisley.
On Sunday Hibernian travel to Fir Park to take on Motherwell. The last time the two sides met there they produced a spectacular 6-6 draw as they battled for a European spot at the end of last season.
Inverness CT v Celtic, Aberdeen v Hamilton, Hearts v St Johnstone, Rangers v Kilmarnock, St Mirren v Dundee United
Motherwell v Hibernian