Gascoigne strike arrests the decline

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The Independent Online
Rangers 4

Gascoigne 1, Salenko 25 84, Durie 36

Hearts 1

Millar 79

Attendance: 45, 155

WHEN trauma strikes, the inflicted look homewards for comfort. Yesterday Rangers, engulfed by Juventus in midweek, were nursed from crisis by a Premier League which for them remains a reassuringly simple proposition.

Though John Millar replied to first-half goals by Paul Gascoigne, Oleg Salenko and Gordon Durie, the champions commanded this game, breaking down Hearts at will. Salenko's second, eight minutes from time, merely crowned the profession.

There was a homeopathic element to Rangers' recuperation. Unpicked by the sublime Alessandro Del Piero on Wednesday, Rangers relied on Gascoigne to inspire this victory. However, Gascoigne was rejected by the league in which Del Piero is still an apprentice, indicating the gulf between European aspiration and reality for the Ibrox club.

The first goal, copying the kind of moves inflicted upon them by Juventus, showed that Rangers had learnt from Wednesday night. Richard Gough and Gordon Petric knocked it about like Catenaccio and Libero, before the Serbian found Gascoigne dropping deep. The Englishman's pause, then dart forward, was continental in its rhythm. However the finish - a precise curler, after bustling between two defenders - was pure Gazza.

In the first half, Rangers went two up. Salenko took a pass from McLaren, cut past McPherson, and drove a shot under the goalkeeper's body. This lack of resistance from Hearts' defence showed in the third. Alex Cleland hit a low cross into the box, ignored by two maroon shirts , before Durie sidefooted in.

After half-time, Hearts found the feet of John Robertson more often. He almost salvaged a miserable afternoon, beating Andy Goram with a lob which drifted a foot wide from 30 yards. The striker then sent a shot into the side netting after John Colquhoun had passed behind Gough. Rangers grew ragged and Hearts, leaving three up front, looked more shapely. From midfield Millar scored a fine goal, cracking a crisp shot past Goram, after carrying the ball 30 yards. Rangers restored their advantage when Salenko beat Gary O'Connor on the angle, after Ian Durrant had punctured the visitors' defence.

Ibrox greeted the goal as if it was their right. John Brown received a cheer for refusing to flinch after Colquhoun pounded a shot into his groin. It was a typically Scottish moment, suggesting Rangers' shortcomings may result from nurture as much as the nature of their football.