Walter's birthday delight! Rangers boss salutes spirit after stunning late present from Edu

Walter Smith hailed the character of his players last night as Rangers snatched last-gasp success over Sporting Lisbon.

It was the perfect 63rd birthday present for the Rangers manager from a team who had been left 'disgusted' by Sunday's 3-0 demolition at the hands of Celtic.

Now they can look forward to the challenge of PSV Eindhoven next month as they bid to reach the Europa League quarter-finals in a hectic season.

Heroes: The Rangers players never gave up -  their persistence has earned them a last-16 clash with PSV

Heroes: The Rangers players never gave up - their persistence has earned them a last-16 clash with PSV

Maurice Edu's injury-time leveller secured a 2-2 draw in Lisbon and an away-goals success - turning around a tie that looked to have run away from Rangers after Pedro Mendes and Yannick Djalo had cancelled out El-Hadji Diouf's opener.

But Rangers refused to give up on their dream and Smith said: 'They are a very gutsy lot this squad of mine. I looked at them the other day after the Celtic defeat and they were disgusted with themselves at their performance.

'I could tell by the way they looked for a day or two after that that they were disappointed they showed so little form at Parkhead.

'I've had a good reaction from them in the past and they've done it again for me tonight. Considering five of them are on loan, then those guys have taken on board what it means to be a Rangers player and made a big contribution.

'We could have chucked it at 2-1 and just headed home to focus on the domestic trophies. But I said all along the competitive instincts kick in the number of games we have, it will be difficult to replicate. The circumstances of the club are very different now from then. But we can only try to win the games. We've said that all along.

'PSV have had a great result in knocking out Lille and it will be an extremely tough match. Lille have been doing well in France, so we know Eindhoven are a good side.'

Many happy returns: Smith received the perfect birthday present from his players

Many happy returns: Smith received the perfect birthday present from his players

Rangers now face a heavy midweek schedule in March, starting with next week's Old Firm Scottish Cup showdown back at Parkhead, although a fortnight's break for international football may help them.

Outstanding SPL fixtures are now a huge headache for the Hampden authorities - and the Ibrox management and players.

'We had a big squad in 2008 - maybe eight or six players more than now -and we took four tournaments right to the wire,' added Smith. 'We don't have that this time but I hear all the clubs in Scotland saying how we must do better in terms of the European coefficient.

'As manager, I take responsibility for making sure we try to win. If we don't have enough of a squad to cope with the domestic tournaments, then it is our fault.'

Rangers will head to the Philips Stadium in Holland on March 10, with the return at Ibrox the following week. Rangers have won twice away from home in Europe against PSV.

Amid Smith's talk of coefficients, Rangers' win last night offered a huge boost to Scottish football, with two sides now guaranteed a crack at the Champions League in the summer of 2012.

Swiss clubs Basle and Young Boys of Berne were both knocked out of the Europa League as the SPL champions reached the last 16.

Those results saw the Scottish coefficient climb back to 15th place for season 2012-13, meaning both the SPL champions and runners-up next season will have a shot at reaching the Champions League group stages.

This season, the side that finishes second will only have access to the Europa League, with the title winners taking the sole slot in the more lucrative Champions League.

But Rangers have posted one win and five draws now this season to raise the Scottish figures, as Smith stressed last night.