Ferguson joins Rangers' absent friends

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The Independent Online
Rangers, the Scottish League champions left reeling after being knocked-out of the Tennents Scottish Cup by Celtic on Thursday, were last night facing the prospect of being without three key players for several important games.

The England midfielder Paul Gascoigne has been ruled out until after the Premier Division meeting with Celtic on Sunday week. Erik Bo Andersen, their Danish striker, is out for three weeks at the very least after suffering a hairline fracture to his skull in the Cup quarter-final defeat by Celtic at Parkhead. And the midfielder Ian Ferguson must serve a two-match suspension after the second derby with Celtic.

Medical experts have advised Gascoigne must remain in plaster for the next week to 10 days, Archie Knox, the Rangers assistant manager, said. Andersen was released from Ross Hall Hospital in Glasgow yesterday after suffering a fracture in an accidental collision.

"Erik is out of hospital and will not be able to train for three weeks," Knox said. "The fracture will be reassessed again at the end of the month when he will have a further check."

Ferguson, one of three Rangers players booked on Thursday night, will serve a two-match ban in games against Kilmarnock and Dunfermline at Ibrox on 22 March and 5 April.

Walter Smith, the manager, has already had his options restricted by the loss of Stuart McCall and Sebastian Rozental for the rest of the season, while Derek McInnes and Trevor Steven are not fit. Smith is more hopeful Richard Gough and Gordon Durie, who failed fitness tests, will be ready to return against Dundee United next Wednesday.

The champions are five points clear of Celtic in their attempt to emulate the record of nine successive titles set by the Parkhead club under the late Jock Stein. As well as local rivalry, a crack at the European Champions' League is there for the taking and it may be that Rangers will be tempted into the transfer market with the Scottish League deadline for signings due on 31 March.

Successful Cup runs are not the exclusive preserve of minnows south of the border. Two Scottish First Division sides take on opposition from the Premier today, hopeful that they can progress to a semi-final.

Greenock Morton face a home tie against Kilmarnock in their attempt to reach the semi-finals of the Cup, while Falkirk entertain another struggling top Division team, Raith. Allan McGraw, Morton's manager and the longest- serving in Scotland, said: "It has certainly been the year of underdog in England."

Bobby Williamson, the Kilmarnock manager, has nothing but admiration for his opponent. "If the outcome of the tie was down to comparing the two managers, then Allan would win hands down," he said.

Falkirk attempt to reach to the last four for the first time since they won the trophy in 1957. Alex Totten, their manager, said: "We've won four of our last five games and I took the players away for a break this week at Troon to keep us all together. We've beaten Dunfermline at Brockville and it will take a similar performance if we are to get through against Raith."

Dundee United and Motherwell look set to sell out Tannadice with the all-Premier Division tie an all-ticket affair. The fixture is a repeat of the 1991 final which Motherwell won 4-3, except this time Tommy McLean is manager of Dundee and last time he was in charge at Motherwell. United are the form team in Scotland after a 13-match unbeaten run, but McLean said: "We are favourites but I don't buy that." He added: "It is another big game for both sides and our attitude will have to be right on the day."

Hibernian meet Dunfermline at Easter Road in the day's only Premier Division fixture, with Hibs seeking their first home win since November and Dunfermline looking to move further away from the relegation zone.