Football: Purist pays a high price: By JAMES TRAYNOR

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The Independent Online
Rangers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Robertson 17, McCoist 42, Ferguson 46, Mikhailichenko 51

Raith Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 42,545

JIMMY NICHOLL and his Raith Rovers side will be greatly missed. The player-manager believes teams should try to play open, entertaining football and that makes him a rare species indeed in a Scottish game that continues to place the emphasis on speed and athleticism.

Even on his return to an old stamping ground, Ibrox, the former Northern Ireland international refused to compromise his principles, but Raith found Rangers sharper in front of goal than they have been for some time.

Even so, such a heavy loss, which virtually condemns the Kirkcaldy club to the drop down into a lower division, seems dreadfully harsh punishment for a purist like Nicholl.

Raith Rovers tried to knock the ball around yesterday, and although they succeeded, their play allowed Rangers to be more expansive than they have been of late.

David Robertson, who had an excellent game, surged forward in 17 minutes and connected powerfully with Duncan Ferguson's lay-off. Robertson's shot from 25 yards curved into the left-hand corner of Scott Thomson's net.

Raith's keeper had to retrieve the ball three more times before a miserable afternoon had ended. Ally McCoist scored his 10th of the season three minutes before the interval; Ferguson, a pounds 4m striker, scored his first for Rangers seconds after the break; and Alexei Mikhailichenko, a half-time substitute for Gordon Durie, scored the fourth in 51 minutes.

There could have been more: a Robertson shot hit a post; Ferguson had the same misfortune; and McCoist's lob hit the bar. But for much of the second half Rangers were cruising, easing their way towards a sixth Premier Division championship.

However, the afternoon was not without controversy, at the centre of which was Ferguson. He was allowed to start a game for the first time since last September because Rangers wanted to rest the overworked Mark Hateley, who did appear, but in defence, for the injured Robertson late in the game.

After 33 minutes Ferguson headbutted John McStay, who fell to the ground. Ferguson should have been ordered indoors, but the referee, Kenneth Clark, did no more than have a word with the culprit, although - absurdly - he did book him later for over-elaborate celebrations after his goal.

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