Football: Rangers saved by Albertz

Rangers 2 Albertz 40, 90 Heart of Midlothian 2 McCann 31, Ham ilton 76 Attendance: 50,046
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The Independent Online
JORG ALBERTZ saved Rangers with a thunderous free-kick in injury time to deny Hearts the victory they so badly wanted, but whether the champions can now stop Celtic is another matter. The other half of the Old Firm were the ones to profit most from the German midfielder's second goal, moving clear of both title rivals at the top.

Hearts looked certain to be there with them after Jim Hamilton had scored from close range in the 76th minute but they now trail by two points, while the gap for Rangers is four.

If Rangers' pride had been hurt by the loss of their league leadership, then the supporters felt it even more than the players. Ibrox was pumped up, a seething cauldron which belied the flurry of snow overhead.

Brian Laudrup almost gave the home crowd something to warm to after just four minutes, pouncing on a mistake by Hearts' central defender David Weir and delivering a perfect cross to the back post where Albertz was waiting. However, Gary Locke saved Hearts by putting the ball behind for a corner.

The slippy surface was making passing difficult, but that was little excuse for the bookings of Grant Murray, for cutting down Laudrup, or Stuart McCall, after 19 minutes, for a cynical hit on Steve Fulton. It was the third foul on Fulton and the playmaker looked as if he was being singled out for special treatment.

Hearts were struggling to find their fluency but almost went ahead in the 27th minute when Neil McCann's corner was flicked on by Stephane Adam and Paul Gascoigne was forced to knock the ball off the line with his midriff.

However, in the 31st minute Hearts scored and again it was a gift from the Rangers defence.Just as at Kilmarnock in midweek, the damage was done by the goalkeeper Andy Goram and Joachim Bjorklund. The Swede passed a harmless ball back to Goram, who sliced his clearance straight to the feet of McCann and the winger shot into an empty net from 25 yards.

Rangers clawed their way back with their own piece of luck in the 40th minute. The move appeared to have broken down when Laudrup was tackled on the edge of the area, but the ball fell to Albertz whose fierce shot took a deflection off Locke and beat the goalkeeper Gilles Rousset.

Soon after, Gascoigne was booked for reacting badly to a tackle by Adam. The England midfielder, who injured his ankle in midweek, was clearly not up to performing and limped off in the 49th minute to be replaced by Jonatan Johansson.

Rangers could have gone ahead a minute later when Albertz raced clear, but with just Rousset to beat the midfielder struck the side netting. The Hearts defender Paul Ritchie was booked soon after for a foul on Marco Negri and the striker should have scored in the 55th minute but again struck his weak shot straight at Rousset.

Rangers were then reduced to 10 men when Richard Gough was sent off in the 65th minute for chopping the legs from McCann. Hearts' Gary Naysmith followed him 12 minutes later.