Football: Fatigue endangers Rangers

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Rangers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Heart of Midlothian. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

WEARINESS and ambition are battling for control of Rangers' season. How long can an appetite for victory sustain bodies that have had enough? On Saturday, Walter Smith's team performed flatly, but ensured the peak of another Scottish Cup final.

On Wednesday, Rangers will require more than teeth-grinding determination. Bite is needed for their visit to Marseille, the crucial match in their quest for a place in the European Cup final. It would be impetuous to discount Rangers, though.

Saturday's match, at Celtic Park, was so full of nerves that it seemed there was only room for a single goal. When Allan Preston's emphatic header put Hearts in front, the scoreline took on a deceptively conclusive air.

Such presumptions failed to take into account the Edinburgh side's sorry recent history. There always has to be a loser, of course, but in Scotland Hearts apparently hold the position on a permanent basis. Since 1986 their lot has been a litany of unfulfilled hopes.

Their promise was as lavish and deceitful as ever in this game. Derek Ferguson, their gifted playmaker, moved from Rangers to Hearts in 1990 with the suspicion that he had not so much been sold as expelled. On Saturday it looked as if he was about to mastermind the ultimate affront to his old club.

Hearts, however, reacted to taking the lead as if they had sustained a fearful blow. Rangers pounded forward and exploited some dazed defenders. Dave McPherson, Rangers' gangling centre-back, a former Hearts man, claimed the equaliser with, of all things, a left-footed shot.

The winner was far less exotic, Ally McCoist fastening on to John Brown's clearance to snatch his 49th goal of the season for Rangers. All the same, with their programme you wonder just how much Cup progress Rangers can withstand.

Goals: Preston (58) 1-0; McPherson (70) 1-1; McCoist (75) 2-1.

Rangers: Goram; McCall, D Robertson, Gough, McPherson, Brown, Steven, I Ferguson, McCoist, Hateley, Hagan (Durrant, 61). Substitute not used: Murray.

Hearts: Walker; McLaren, McKinlay, Levein, Mackay, van de Ven, J Robertson, D Ferguson (Snodin, 89), Baird, Millar, Preston (I Ferguson, 81).

Referee: C Hope (Erskine).