Football: Depleted Rangers pull away

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The Independent Online
The start of a new year traditionally rings with the sound of alarm bells for Scotland's title pretenders. Over the course of their nine League titles, Rangers have hardened to their task over the final third of the season, using the months of January and February as springboards to success.

On Saturday a depleted side without Brian Laudrup or Marco Negri might have been largely unconvincing against Motherwell, but with Celtic's game called off because of the weather and Hearts drawing at Kilmarnock, Rangers extended their lead in the Premier Division.

Alex Cleland proved an unlikely hero by scoring the only goal to give Rangers their first win in three matches against Motherwell this season. The 1-0 victory has given Walter Smith's side a three-point advantage over Hearts and six over Celtic who travel to Tannadice tomorrow to face Dundee United.

Tommy Johnston, who was on the verge of a move to Crystal Palace, has seen his Celtic career resurrected to such an extent that he has forced his way back into Wim Jansen's squad and he will be hoping for the chance to prove he can score the goals to help Celtic end Rangers' domination.

Hearts, too, have an eye for the title but they again demonstrated fragility in defence as they twice lost the lead against Kilmarnock in a 2-2 draw. Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, will take this week to consider the merits of William Prunier, the French defender who was previously with Manchester United.

For Edinburgh neighbours Hibernian there was a return to reality after last week's victory, their first in 16 games, with a 1-0 defeat by St Johnstone.

- David McKinney