Football: Rangers frustrated

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The Independent Online

Motherwell 0 Rangers 0

The inability of Rangers to take full advantage of the bottom club, Motherwell, ensures the Scottish Premier Division championship race enters the most exciting New Year period it has witnessed for many years.

Too often in the seven years in which Rangers have wrapped up the title they have been well ahead of the pack by the turn of the year, but as they approach 1996 they will be able to feel the breath of Celtic snorting on to the back of their necks.

Rangers' great rivals reduced the lead at the top to just one point with a win over Falkirk on Saturday, and a point last night gives the Ibrox side a lead which could be overturned on a single afternoon.

"It looked like a 0-0 draw throughout," Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, said. "It is disappointing from our point of view. We do show at times that the team does not play as a unit, but that is to be expected with all the changes."

However, while they were ravaged by injury, Rangers contrived to create and miss several gilt-edged chances. Gordon Durie came closest for the champions, smacking a header off the bar and running out of steam when sent clear against Scott Howie. There were chances, too, for Richard Gough, who came close twice with headers in the first half.

Motherwell, similarly without several key players, twice carved openings only to be denied by first Andy Goram, and then one of his uprights. In the 12th minute, the Scotland goalkeeper, who was being watched by Craig Brown, the national coach, reacted well to smother a shot from Paul Lambert. In the second half, Alex Burns deceived a defender on the right before beating Goram with a shot across goal which came back off the far post.

The game improved in time with both sides seeking the opener and producing a marvellous free-flowing match. The pity was that there were no goals to enliven the evening, but there is little doubt that if Motherwell can continue to produce similar performances they will soon improve their lot. The point they earned took them off the bottom of the table and now their manager, Alex McLeish, must find a goalscorer to finish their pleasing moves. Nevertheless, he said his side's performance "made a mockery" of their lowly position.

Rangers were lacking several of their top men, including Paul Gascoigne and Ally McCoist, and Smith will be hoping to secure the services of a Brazilian player, Jardel, in the new year - a move which might provide the basis for a renewed launch on the title.

Motherwell (3-5-2): Howie; Martin (Ritchie, 78), Krivokapic, Denham; May, Lambert, Davies (Dolan, 82), McSkimming, McKinnon; Burns, Roddie (Essandoh, 90).

Rangers (3-5-2): Goram; McLaren, Gough, Petric; Mikhailichenko, Ferguson, Miller, McInnes, Robertson; Durie, Laudrup. Substitutes not used: Durrant, Murray, McGinty.

Referee: J McLuskey (Stewarton).