Football: Top three leave the rest trailing

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The Independent Online
Scotland's Premier Division is becoming a three-horse race. Two points separate Heart of Midlothian, Rangers and Celtic as the trio fight out their own league campaign, leaving the other seven clubs languishing as distant also-rans.

With 14 points between Celtic and fourth-placed Dundee United, it seems impossible even this early that there can be any other challenger for the title.

Praise, then, has to be given to Hearts, who are still top despite losing every match against Celtic and Rangers this season. After their defeat to Celtic on Saturday, Jim Jefferies, their manager, knows they have to avoid defeat by Rangers on Saturday if they wish to hold on to pole position.

Celtic supporters were given a first look at the man they hope will lead them to the title, when Harald Brattbakk came on for Regi Blinker. The Norwegian striker, who cost pounds 2m from Rosenborg Trondheim, deferred the scoring to Craig Burley, who struck the only goal 10 minutes from time - but the new man later insisted this Celtic side is good enough to break Rangers' title monopoly.

"We played as a team and if we continue to do that and create as many chances as we did today, then we'll very much be in contention for the championship," he said. "The way the fans responded to me was indescribable, the crowd was five times what I was used to at Rosenborg."

Rangers, meanwhile, failed to make a breakthrough at Dunfermline despite dominating the entire 90 minutes. They found Ian Westwater in the home goal in determined mood as he laid the ghosts of a 7-0 defeat at Ibrox earlier in the season. Yet, despite horrendous injury problems and a five- match suspension for Paul Gascoigne, Walter Smith's side are just one point behind Hearts.

It was a good day for Andy Walker, who was signed by Hibernian from Sheffield United on Friday. The former Celtic and Motherwell striker, who also had a spell at Bolton, scored both Hibs' goals in a 2-2 draw with Aberdeen. While the Dons remain rooted at the foot of the table, comments this week from Scotland's top 10 clubs who are seeking a "breakaway" league will cause concern for those in the First Division.

The threat from the 10 is that they will pull up the drawbridge and prevent promotion or relegation, a tactic which would almost certainly lead to First Division clubs who have taken a gamble on remaining full-time going to the wall. The top 10 will meet on Wednesday to make a decision on their next move.

- David McKinney

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