McCann puts Celtic's celebrations on hold

Rangers 5 Kilmarnock 0
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The Independent Football

As an exercise in damage limitation, Rangers delivered the ultimate resistance as they swept Kilmarnock aside at Ibrox last night.

The prospect of stumbling to defeat and handing the Scottish Premier League title provoked a backlash from Alex McLeish's side, especially Neil McCann, who scored twice.

Celtic's destiny is now in their own hands and one victory will seal their crown.

Rangers knew in advance that the evening was simply about damage limitation, and not handing the title to Celtic on a plate. However, a raft of changes made by McLeish indicated that the manager felt that Sunday's Scottish Cup semi-final now assumed greater importance in Ibrox minds.

The hunger of those players McLeish did hand a jersey to was obvious. Billy Dodds and Andrei Kanchelskis were scampering everywhere, and had it not been for Colin Meldrum then the former Scotland striker would have had two goals before a quarter of an hour.

Each time the Kilmarnock goalkeeper produced spectacular saves to deny Dodds' volleys, but there was little Meldrum could do to prevent Rangers from taking the lead in the 24th minute.

Lorenzo Amoruso's free-kick picked out McCann and the back post and his header was parried by Meldrum. Ally Mitchell hooked the ball away from the empty goal but it was charged down by the inrushing Dodds.

Just after the half hour, Rangers doubled their lead. Kanchelskis seized upon Amoruso's pass and left Kilmarnock's defence for dead before hitting a venomous, angled, right-foot shot past Meldrum.

Then, five minutes before then interval, McCann netted Rangers' third. Maurice Ross's cross was met by the Scotland midfielder at the back post who buried his shot beyond Meldrum.

Rangers surged further ahead in the 61st minute when Kanchelskis's burst on the counter-attack exposed Kilmarnock before he swung over a cross which was met by McCann's firm header which beat Medlrum.

If Kilmarnock thought the worst had passed when the Russian finally went off to standing ovation in the 78th minute, they were mistaken.

His replacement, the teenager Chris Burke, showed wonderful composure to score on his debut inside two minutes, taking a pass from Dodds and clipping a fine shot beyond the keeper, off the knee of defender Sean Hessey.

Rangers (4-4-2): Klos; Ross, Malcolm, Amoruso, Numan (Pentilla, 73); Kanchelskis (Burke, 78), Hughes, Nerlinger, McCann; Lovenkrands, Dodds. Substitutes not used: McGregor (gk), Caniggia, Latapy.

Kilmarnock (3-5-2): Meldrum; Hessey, McGowne, Innes; Canero, Mitchell, McDonald (Fowler, 71), Mahood (Boyd, 46), Hay; Dargo, McLaren (Murray, 63). Substitutes not used: Stewart (gk), Ngonge.

Referee: J Rowbotham.