Steven Naismith claims his injury absence is not the end of the world for new Rangers team that just needs time to gel
Before then, Rangers had dropped just two points in 13 SPL matches and he had scored nine times. Since then, they have dropped 11 points in eight games. QED in the eyes of many pundits and fans, and a sign of how important 25-year-old Naismith had become to the Ibrox club since he returned from the same long-term injury that afflicted his left knee in 2008.
Except that the tigerish striker himself just won’t buy the “if only we hadn’t lost Naisy” talk. “It’s nice to hear, but it won’t change anything,” he said. “We need to focus on the squad that’s playing and who IS going to win the league for the team and the club.
“It’s not going to be me. I can maybe play my part in the dressing room, but it’s the boys on the park who’ll make the difference.
“I was lucky at the start of the season that, although we weren’t playing the best, we were still grinding out results by scoring goals and keeping clean sheets. We were riding a wave, but there’s going to be a time when you lose games and drop points during a season. It’s just unlucky that my injury coincided with that.”
Naismith then proceeded to put his finger on what he sees as the possible reason for the slump – the lack of championship battle experience in the newcomers to the team.
“We’ve got a good enough squad, to be honest,” said Naismith. “For me, that’s not the main problem. When I was playing I knew, if I wasn’t playing well, I’d be out of the team.
“Part of the problem is that this is the first season when we’ve had quite a lot of change of players and new players coming in and it does take a while to gel. It took me longer than I thought. Even when I got injured the first time, I was still coming to terms with the demands on you and what it means to play for Rangers. Maybe there are a few players who have come in suffering the same problems that I did at the start.
“Sone Aluko and Alejandro Bedoya are quite young. These are guys who’ve come into the team and had to make an impact immediately and it’s hard.”
Naismith very much feels the SPL title is far from decided, apart from one or other of the Old Firm clubs winning it: “From now until the end of the season both teams will drop more points, there’s no doubt about that. You need a run of results to win a league so it’s times like now we need to stand up and be counted.
“We need to start getting the points back on the board. We’re definitely better than we’re showing at the moment. We’ve won three titles back-to-back and you don’t get that out of luck, you’re not lucky for three years in a row.”
Recent criticism of the likes of Nikica Jelavic and Steven Davis is unwarranted, says Naismith.
“Your big players are going to get that,” he said. “When things are going well, the players who are doing it get the praise, but when the chips are down they’re first to get criticised and that’s what’s happening at the moment.
“But Davo is an experienced player, Jelavic is an experienced player, so they’re not going to let it affect them.”
Nor does he feel that the captaincy is pressurising Davis: “When we were winning all the games at the start of the season he was the captain. It’s not a one-man show and he might not be a ranter and a raver but neither is Davie Weir. The captaincy just isn’t an issue and I don’t think it’ll have affected his game.”
The good new for Rangers and Scotland fans is that Naismith is definitely on the mend and is on course to resume training prior to next season. He was happy to show off the scars that have healed perfectly, though he hasn’t yet watched the video of the operation: “I’ve got the DVD in the house, but I’ve not watched it. It doesn’t really interest me in the least. You feel a bruise-like feeling after it, but the physio said to me ‘If you had seen how they were flinging your leg about then you’d understand why it’s a wee bit like that’.”
As for donning the Scotland shirt again, Naismith revealed that manager Craig Levein has been in constant touch: “Luckily for me there aren’t many games or any qualifiers for the next few months. But the manager has spoken to me on several occasions and made me feel as if I’m a big part of things, which is great. It makes me feel good that he’s interested in me when there are a million replacements out there.”
There will be many Rangers and Scotland fans who will disagree. For them, replacing Steven Naismith is well nigh impossible.