WHENEVER a football writer strayed into territory Walter Smith wasn’t overly keen to discuss, or dared asked a question which wasn’t quite on point, they got the stare.

No words were needed. Just that look from the Rangers manager. Even the most hardened hack would be made to feel like a primary school child being given into trouble for talking in class.

Graeme Murty, who now occupies the office Smith once did, doesn’t as of yet have the character, and this is with all due respect, which means all he requires is a stern facial expression to let any questioner know that they have committed an enormous error of judgement.

But yesterday even nice-guy Murty recoileded and was slightly annoyed by a question which was, arguably, a bit cheeky, and put forth by myself, about whether Rangers would be in a much better position now had he been given the job long before anyone had ever heard of Pedro Caixinha.

Murty didn’t fall for it, so allow me to answer for him.

Yes, had the current manager been in place in the summer, the team would be stronger for too many manifestly obvious reasons to get into here.

But, no, they would not be in a title race, Celtic were always going to be too strong; however, while this is all of course hypothetical, the men from Ibrox would most likely not be 14 points adrift of their old pals.

“Come on, I’ve got no idea,” said Murty when asked where his team might have been. “Listen, we are in a positive place at the moment but I’m not going to say we would, could or should. I’d shoot myself in the foot by going and losing a couple of games.

“It would look like I’m decrying from the rooftops that Rangers are back. I’m not doing that. We have made some positive strides but that’s all we’ve done. The guys across the city have put together a run that is unmatched in football history. Fair play to them.

“What we have to do is make sure we move ourselves forward. We have made small steps but we’ve built nothing so far. Let’s see what team we evolve into by the end of the season.”

And as tape recorders were lifted from in front of him, Murty said: “I don’t want to read headlines which say we would be close to Celtic.”

As if we ever would…

What Murty would admit is that slowly but surely this team is becoming his.

There is a new way of playing, new faces and a far better atmosphere has been evident since the youth coach was given the job until the end of this season at least.

“It's getting there,” he said. “It's moving towards where I want it to look. It's not perfect. There's more clarity needed from me and there's more control needed from us at times. But there are elements I'm very pleased with.

“It's been easy because we have good players to work with, people who can take on tactical information at a high level. But it's not like playing on a Playstation. They're human beings and they have to have leeway to make decisions.

“We brought them here because we believe they're good footballers and you have to allow them to go and play football as they see it, as well giving them tactical information on the style and pattern we'd like to use.”

Signing players, talking new deals, knocking back money. This does sound like the work of a manager who is not here for the long-ter. Does it not?

"As a new manager it would be arrogant in the extreme for me to think that,” said Murty. “I'm just trying to do a good job. If I do a really good job that discussion will take place.”

Ibrox this afternoon is the place to be.

Rangers and Hibernian have produced some classics in recent years and the last time they met in Glasgow, Hibs won 3-2 and Neil Lennon’s ear-cupping almost sparked a riot according to those who don’t know what a riot is.

Asked how he got on with Lennon, Murty said: “Fine, great. I was a bit concerned after the Easter Road game when we won the points and maybe didn’t deserve them. He was fine, perfectly candid, open and warm.

“I know he’s a passionate guy and he can be quite feisty but that’s a big part of football. You are in football for the characters and the occasion and the atmosphere and he adds to it all.

“We had a really good chat after the game. He had seen my interview when I was honest and forthright about the manner of our win. I think he respects honesty and people who tell it as it is. I try to do that with the press and other managers. I am not hiding anything.

"I think the players like these games. There's no added spice required because it's a clash at the top end of the table with a good team. We're going to have to make sure we're at it and deliver a level of intensity we've shown so far since the break.

“We'll also have to show the resilience we showed at Easter Road because these guys are a good team. We have to make sure we do our job properly and let the occasion take care of itself.”