Football: Rangers encouraged by Gascoigne recovery

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The Independent Online
PAUL GASCOIGNE is a surprise contender for a place in Rangers' starting line-up today when they face their title rivals Hearts at Ibrox.

The England midfielder limped off with an ankle injury during the 1-1 draw against Kilmarnock in midweek and his manager, Walter Smith, thought that he would be ruled out until 9 March and the Scottish Cup match against Dundee.

Gascoigne, however, is making good progress from the knock and is quietly confident of playing some part today.

"I hadn't anticipated that Gazza could be fit for this game," Smith said yesterday. "I didn't think he would be in a position to take a fitness test. But he will have one in the morning and we are hopeful that he will come through it all right."

Gascoigne is anxious to play as many games as possible with the World Cup approaching but has had to endure a frustrating season on and off the pitch and his form has dipped.

He has started only 13 of Rangers' 26 League games and the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, is likely to have noted that he seems to be short of match practice.

Smith, however, could do with an in-form Gascoigne to revive his side's fortunes and the Hearts match would be as good a game as any to display his wide range of skills.

Rangers may be without Brian Laudrup today, after the Dane picked up a calf injury in the Kilmarnock match.

Hearts overtook Rangers in the League on Wednesday after a spirited 3- 1 victory against Aberdeen. They are second to the leaders Celtic on goal difference, and two points clear of the champions.

Celtic's head coach, Wim Jansen, has sensed a growing self-belief among his men both in themselves and, significantly, in each other, that Celtic can lift their first Scottish title for a decade.

After emphatic home victories against Kilmarnock and Dunfermline, Celtic travel to the bottom club Hibernian today in positive mood, with the fluid system Jansen has devised paying dividends.

He said: "The most important thing about the 5-1 win against Dunfermline on Wednesday is the confidence that we showed. We really enjoyed the game.

"Everybody wants to be in the team, have a good performance and win the game and that desire is the vital for us at the moment.

"The players know we can do it but we have to do it by ourselves. We should just look to ourselves and try to do the best for ourselves."