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<-Page <-Team Thu 28 Sep 2006 Sparta Prague 0 Hearts 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Telegraph ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Roddy Forsyth auth-> Peter Sippel
26 of 052 ----- E A

Heat is on for Rangers and Hearts to deliver

By Roddy Forsyth

The odds against Scotland having two sides in the Uefa Cup group stage are substantial — Hearts trail Sparta Prague 2-0 before this evening's return in the Czech capital — but what is more alarming is the possibility of no representation at all. Rangers were strongly fancied to beat Molde of Norway when the first round draw was made but a halting goalless draw two weeks ago has been followed by defeats away to Hibernian and Celtic, with only a CIS Cup victory at Dunfermline to lighten the gloom.

To add to concerns at Ibrox, Chris Burke is out for three months because of shoulder ligament damage he suffered in Saturday's Old Firm derby. He will undergo an operation tomorrow morning but, whatever the outcome, Burke will not be available for the group stage should Rangers progress.

It is the third setback for the 22-year-old winger in as many months. He injured an ankle during the pre-season and was out for three games after a reckless challenge by his former club-mate, Fernando Ricksen, in a friendly with Zenit St Petersburg.

Paul Le Guen, the Rangers manager, must lift his players adequately or face the first real crisis of his Ibrox tenure. "We need our fans with us and I hope that we will be able to prove to them that we are fighters and we are able to get results. We must accept criticism when it comes our way," he said.

"I would prefer that the criticism was aimed at me rather than the players. For me it's normal because it is my job but I want to try to keep my players confident.

"They have potential. I know some people don't like me using this word, but that's how I feel and I am not pessimistic." Aside from Burke, Lionel Letizi is injured and Sasa Papac cup-tied. "I would like to have more stability and with this situation and injuries I have been unable to do that but it's up to me to find a solution," said Le Guen.

"However, I have options. I can bring back Bardsley and Svensson so I will think of that and find the right balance for the team. I didn't have Molde watched last Sunday but we know enough about them and we know we must be careful. We must not underestimate them because they are a good side."

Hearts also have concerns for their meeting with Sparta. Neil McCann is suspended, the Greek pair of Takis Fyssas and Christos Karipidis are absent and Edgaras Jankauskas and Andy Driver are also out. Michal Pospisil flew out with the squad yesterday morning but is not yet match fit after recent injury.

The Hearts owner, Vladimir Romanov, has had harsh words for referees lately, but the Tynecastle manager, Valdas Ivanauskas, said of tonight's German referee, Peter Sippel: "I know him and he is a good official who has been on the Fifa list for a long time — there is no question that he will be strong enough."

Taken from

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