Gascoigne eyes a medal

Today's Scottish Cup finalists have bad memories to erase, says David McKinney
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The Independent Online
Rangers and Hearts will concentrate as much on the laying of ghosts as they will on the 90 minutes in front of them when they face each other in today's Tennents Scottish Cup final.

On their last visit to the National Stadium on show-case day, Rangers surprisingly lost to Dundee United; while Jim Jefferies, the Hearts' manager, this week revealed he has had to work hard to erase a disappointing memory of 1986 when Hearts lost out on the Premier Division title with a last-day defeat to Dundee and, seven days later, lost the Scottish Cup final 3-0 to Aberdeen.

Jefferies who has taken Hearts from the bottom of the Premier Division to fourth in the league and the cup final this week revealed his frustration at the state of the player's minds when he arrived at the club last summer. "The older players felt they were jinxed," Jefferies said, "and had begun to accept that as the norm.

"In the first quarter of the season it was all hard luck stories, bad luck blazers and unlucky tracksuits. I thought at the time: 'Jesus Christ, we're beaten before we even go out and play.' That week in 1986 was a traumatic time for the club, but 10 years on it was still affecting people."

The turning point for Hearts was an explosion of anger from Jefferies aimed at the players whose superstition had allowed the club to slip so far. Since then they have recorded two wins over Rangers, which saw Allan Johnston record the special achievement of scoring four times in a season against Andy Goram.

While there hangs in the air around Gorgie Road the bitter legacy of a 40-year wait for a trophy, many Hearts supporters will feel today's game gives them an outstanding chance of success.

Rangers, however, can be daunting opposition, on Cup final day doubly so, and although Walter Smith has a doubt over Ally McCoist, who suffered a flare-up of the ankle injury that has dogged his season, he knows that in Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup he has players who can turn the game in their favour. "Both are big occasion players who respond to having a platform on which to operate," he said. "They are capable of turning on the style at the highest level."

Despite McCoist's protestations - he has scored 20 goals in his injury- hit season - he has been eclipsed by the arrival of Gascoigne and this match gives the Geordie the chance to collect a cup-winner's medal in different circumstances to the 1991 FA Cup final, when as a Spurs player he was carried off with a self-inflicted knee injury.

"I obviously knew nothing of the celebrations after the last one and my mum still has my medal from that day. On Saturday I am determined to enjoy myself to the full," he said.

The last time Rangers contested a Scottish Cup final, they were looking for back-to-back trebles. This time the double can be achieved, yet whoever wins will feel they have also beaten their jinx.