Football: Gascoigne has last laugh

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The Independent Online
Rangers 1

Cleland 23

Motherwell 0

Attendance: 49,443

ALEX CLELAND played the straight man to Paul Gascoigne's clown prince to help Rangers stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League, despite the champions displaying their own split personality.

The defender Cleland's decisive 22nd-minute goal was scant reward for the one-man show which Gascoigne staged in the first half, but the league- leaders were strangely anonymous thereafter yet still claimed victory from the side which dented Celtic's title hopes last week.

Rangers were denied the services of the Danish international Brian Laudrup who was suffering from flu, but that was more than compensated for by the return of Paul Gascoigne for his first start since late November. The England star may not have seen much action in recent weeks but that has not stopped him dominating the back pages of the papers in Scotland, mainly thanks to his inflammatory sectarian gesture at Celtic on 2 January, the subsequent pounds 20,000 fine and apology, and then, two days ago, the revelation that Gascoigne had been the subject of a death threat.

If the poison pen letter was meant to inhibit Gascoigne, it had the opposite effect on the sodden Ibrox turf after rain teemed down. Indeed, Motherwell's ponytailed French midfielder Eric Garcin was booked in the 17th minute for ending one of those trademark Gascoigne runs with a foul.

Rangers eventually took the lead five minutes later but with Motherwell focusing solely on their Gazza factor, it was the unsung Cleland who took advantage. The right-back ghosted in unnoticed after the Motherwell keeper Steve Woods failed to hold a shot from Gordon Durie and Cleland buried the rebound for his third goal of the season.

Rob Newman then became the second Motherwell player to be cautioned before Durie almost scored a second for Rangers in the 28th minute. The Scotland striker's right-foot shot threatened to curl beyond Woods, but this time the goalkeeper got to the ball.

Motherwell, who had drawn both previous league encounters with Rangers this season, finally broke out of their defensive shell and had a penalty claim turned down in the 34th minute when Willie Falconer appeared to have his header struck by a Rangers' hand.

Surprisingly Gascoigne played in a much deeper role after the interval and saw only a fraction of the ball that he had done in the first half.

Apart from a 25-yard curling free-kick from Gazza, which took a deflection off the wall to slip just wide for a corner, the game became ragged.

This was underlined by a spate of bookings for Durie, Falconer and Motherwell's Owen Coyle, who was shown the yellow card in the 70th minute for diving.