Football: McCoist has that born-again look

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WITH six games remaining in the Scottish Premier Division, Celtic and Hearts are beginning to appreciate that mind games can be as important as those played on green fields.

The top two clubs find themselves faced with a weekly battle against the inner demons of doubt as they reach out to lay a hand on the league trophy while Rangers are creeping up from behind looking to snatch it from their grasp.

Two goals from Ally McCoist helped Rangers to a 3-2 victory over Dunfermline which took the defending champions to within three points of Celtic, the league leaders. The gap can be closed on Wednesday when Rangers entertain Hibernian, the bottom club, in a game rearranged because of the Tennents Scottish Cup semi-finals.

The champions have been there before, of course, winning the league in the last nine seasons, but the prospect of a first title for 10 years appears to be having a debilitating effect on Celtic, who have drawn their last two home games.

On Saturday they struggled to create chances against a Hearts side with less inhibitions and lost the services of Stephane Mahe, their French full-back, to a potentially serious knee injury. To add to their jaded look, the continuing prospect of the loss of Wim Jansen, their coach, who has hinted he could invoke an escape clause in his contract in the summer, means the pendulum is beginning to swing away from Celtic.

Meanwhile, Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, has suggested his club made the right decision in allowing Paul Gascoigne to leave Ibrox. Smith said: "If he had been playing at the same level as before, there is no way I would have sold a fit Gazza. I wanted him, but only fully fit, and there was a temptation to hold on to him, but only if he could play to the level he had been at before."

Hibernian gained a point with a last-minute penalty against Aberdeen, scored by Tony Rougier, but they still trail Dunfermline by six points, while Motherwell moved to seventh position thanks to a single goal scored by Owen Coyle against Dundee United.

The league positions ensure that Hibs will travel to Ibrox on Wednesday determined to take something out of the game, but they will face an equally determined Rangers side, who might just have found the spur they required in the form of McCoist, their born-again striker.