Football: Rangers open up 12-point cushion

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The Independent Online
RANGERS INCREASED their lead at the top of the Premier League to 12 points with a 3-0 win over Dunfermline at East End Park last night. Two goals in the space of three minutes in the second half and a third in the 90th minute put Dunfermline in their place - at the bottom of the division.

After a first half in which Dunfermline's confidence grew the longer the match remained goalless, the home side pressed forward with purpose after the restart. Inevitably, they were punished on the break. After 56 minutes Wallace's deep cross was met on the volley by Andrei Kanchelskis for a strong contender for goal of the season.

That set Rangers on their way and they were able to double their tally just three minutes later. The substitute Neil McCann touched the ball into the path of Jonatan Johansson - preferred to Stephane Guivarc'h in attack - and the Finn produced a powerful drive from the edge of the area. Johansson sealed the success in the final minute with a straightforward knock-in from Rod Wallace's square pass into the area.

The win cancelled out Celtic's 3-0 victory over Hearts the previous day when Henrik Larsson's worth was again underlined as he gave a master class. It was not just the hat-trick the Swede scored, but his flicks and feints had the Hearts defence chasing shadows for most of the afternoon.

Larsson was outstanding when Celtic were struggling in the early part of the season but now that they are playing well he is simply majestic.

The deft touches of the striker who was signed for a mere pounds 650,000 won the highest praise from his coach, Dr Josef Vengloss: "He's the best player in the country and one of the best in Europe. In my career I have worked with top-quality players like Futre, Ondrus and Platt and Henrik is up there among them. He has the ability to do things other players cannot."

Larsson's strikes took his total for the season to 24 and installed him as the front-runner for Player of the Year. That would be his second honour this season as he has already been named Sweden's best overseas player over the past 12 months.

Larsson's first goal saw him compete with Steven Pressley for a high ball, collect the resulting bouncing ball on his thigh before passing it into the net. His second was a header at a corner, the third a driven penalty, but his vision and ability to bring others into the game allowed Harald Brattbakk and Phil O'Donnell several chances to further increase Hearts' misery.

The Edinburgh club has suffered an almost total reverse from last season when they competed with the Old Firm at the top of the league in a run that culminated in a Scottish Cup win. Hearts are now third from bottom of the Premier League with morale plunging.

Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, has been struggling to freshen his squad and could be helped if David Weir agrees a deal with Liverpool this week. Any money generated would be used to buy new faces.

Dundee overcame a flu epidemic to record a 1-0 win over Motherwell, while Aberdeen dealt Kilmarnock's title hopes a blow by beating them at Pittodrie. St Johnstone kept Dundee United in the relegation area with a Gary Bollan penalty.

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