Football: Saints surprise Rangers

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RANGERS' TITLE hopes were dealt a blow yesterday when they lost 3-1 to St Johnstone, a side they had crushed 7-0 on their previous visit to McDiarmid Park. The defeat came a day after Celtic had reduced their lead to six points at the head of the Scottish Premier Division.

Saints took the lead in this Scottish Cup semi-final warm-up after 14 minutes when their returning hero Jimmy Weir, making his first start of the season following an Achilles injury, rose to head home a Kieran McAnespie free-kick.

Craig Moore equalised for Rangers after 58 minutes, but St Johnstone regained the lead through Miguel Simao before McAnespie made sure with a third goal in the final minute. Alan Main was in outstanding form in the home goal.

When he arrived at Celtic five years ago Fergus McCann was an anonymous wee man cutting a faintly comical figure as he blinked through thick glasses under a cloth cap. The disguise was an effective one because no one is laughing now at the firmly focused business man who has re-structured everything about the club from the management system to the magnificent stadium that stands testimony to his stewardship.

While the stadium will be his lasting monument, McCann's personnel skills were a weak point. His five years have left a series of casualties, those who did not see eye to eye or fit in with the plans, from Brian Dempsey to three managers and Jock Brown, the general manager. Perhaps their fate was a necessary part of progress but certainly the applause was warm and sincere from the supporters as McCann now sporting a fedora took his final bow.

He had watched Celtic score five goals against Dundee but even on the eve of his departure from Scotland McCann leaves behind unrest on the management side. Jozef Venglos hinted after the game that he would exercise an escape option in his contract to end his time as coach, commenting: "I am happy at Celtic and the decision about my future will not be based on money. The terms of my contract allow me to leave and I must think of my health. That is the most important thing for me to consider, but my position is now unimportant, the club and players are more important."

While Celtic continue to harbour hopes of reclaiming their title, Hearts are flirting with relegation. Their fragile morale was further damaged by a 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock which saw them squander a two-goal lead.

The Edinburgh club remain at the foot of the table and have moved to within two points of Dunfermline, who were beaten 3-1 by Aberdeen. In contrast with Hearts fears, the followers of Hibs were celebrating promotion back to the Premier League. The club from the other side of Edinburgh secured their return to the big time with a 2-0 win over Hamilton, courtesy of two goals from Russel Latapy.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Livingston both secured promotion from the Second Division while Ross County will move up from the Third.