Gascoigne's magic brings title to Ibrox

Rangers 3 Aberdeen 1
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The Independent Online
If they thought it was all over it is now. The gamble has paid off for Rangers, who surprised the football world in the summer by bringing Paul Gascoigne to Scotland. The pounds 4.3m they paid Lazio seemed excessive for a player with a lot to prove, but when it mattered the Geordie stamped his personality over the season.

How appropriate it was that Gascoigne was last to leave the field yesterday, ball held high over his head and milking the applause from his adoring fans. He had, after all, treated the Ibrox crowd of 47,247 to a vintage display, scoring all three goals to clinch an eighth successive league title. He, more than anyone, was allowed to cavort like a little boy after the final whistle.

The midfielder could not have been tied down on the day his fellow professionals had voted him Scotland's player of the year. Two spectacular goals and a penalty and Rangers had broken the finishing tape after the most exciting league race for years.

Gascoigne, with 19 goals, has answered his critics in football terms, although 16 yellow cards would suggest that his temperament remains fragile. However, with the ball at his feet he reigns supreme and if the standard of opponent in Scotland can be varied, he has taken responsibility in the big games. Europe will now be his stage in the Championship this summer and in next season's Champions' League.

If reports that Gianluca Vialli has agreed to join Rangers from Juventus are accurate then perhaps this time the Scottish champions can look forward with real optimism to making an impact against Europe's elite. Equally important for everyone at Ibrox is the thought they can draw level with, then surpass, Celtic's nine in a row title run of the 1960s and 70s.

This league title will give Walter Smith enormous satisfaction given the level of consistency his side has shown to hold off a resurgent Celtic. They will again provide the main opposition next season.

"Paul has had a terrific season and while we knew things were always going to be difficult at the start I never heard anyone say he wasn't a footballer," Smith said. "In the second half of the season he has shown he is an exceptional talent."

Gascoigne dug into his repertoire to rescue for Rangers a game which threatened to slip from them. Brian Irvine shot Aberdeen ahead from a corner in the 19th minute, but within seconds Gascoigne had weaved past two defenders before equalising from close range.

With nerves beginning to fray, Gascoigne grabbed the game by the neck scoring a second with 10 minutes remaining. It was typical Gascoigne - it was typically brilliant. His run from half-way saw him leave defenders trail in his wake and a sublime finish gave Rangers a precious lead.

From then on he was posturing, even showing off to his public, and with four minutes remaining he scored a third goal from the penalty spot after Gordon Durie had been fouled.

"I was shaking for the 90 minutes. I don't know how I did it but I did. And after 14 operations I deserve this more than anyone," said the man of the moment. Goals: Irvine (19) 0-1; Gascoigne (21) 1-1; Gascoigne (80) 2-1; Gascoigne (pen, 86) 3-1. Rangers (3-4-3): Goram; McLaren, Gough, Brown; Steven (Petric, 72), Gascoigne, McCall, Robertson; Durie (Durrant, 89), Andersen (McCoist, 61), Laudrup. Aberdeen (3-5-2): Watt; Inglis, Irvine, Smith; McKimmie, Rowson, Bernard, Windass, Glass; Booth (Kpedekpo, 74), Dodds. Substitutes not used: Grant, Stillie. Referee: L Mottram (Forth). Bookings: Aberdeen: McKimmie, Smith. Man of the match: Gascoigne. Attendance: 47,247.

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