Rangers consolidate after Celtic failure

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The Independent Online
Scottish football

Having secured a five-point lead due to the circumstances of the last 48 hours, Rangers might in time look back to this weekend as the key to the title race.

On Saturday Celtic missed the chance to draw level on points with their rivals when they could only draw with Hearts, a result which cleared the way for Rangers to open up a useful gap with a 3-0 win at Pittodrie yesterday.

A typical fiery encounter with Aberdeen encompassed several goal incidents as well as bad tempered flashpoints which left Rangers without Jorg Albertz for their Champions' League match with Auxerre on Wednesday following a leg injury while Aberdeen's Dean Windass suffered a suspected broken jaw.

Once again, however, Rangers were well served by the skills of Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne, who ran the game in the second half, while it was Laudrup who supplied the cross for David Robertson to score the first goal before the interval.

Laudrup added a second himself in the 77th minute, chipping in from 25 yards after drawing Nicky Walker from his line. The Dane was also involved in Rangers' third goal: his pass found Ally McCoist and when his shot was saved Charlie Miller followed up to score.

"That was a terrific performance and a terrific second goal from us, and hopefully we can continue our form into the game against Auxerre," Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, said. "This is a very difficult month for us with a lot of matches to play and if we are still at the top on 4 January we can look forward to the rest of the season."

Celtic lost the services of Paolo Di Canio, their Italian winger, just seconds after he had scored his side's second goal from the penalty spot against Hearts. Di Canio clashed with Steve Fulton before the ball was centred, earning himself a second yellow card. He will miss the game at Dunfermline on Tuesday.

Tommy Burns, the Celtic manager, remains confident that his side can redress the balance. "If we can just calm ourselves down a bit, we'll get there. The fans have to realise every game can't be 100 miles per hour and the end of the world if we lose, but we know we have to beat Rangers to win the league."

Raith Rovers secured an important home win over Kilmarnock with a last- minute goal by Danny Lennon which enabled them to share draw level with Kilmarnock at the bottom of the division on 11 points.

Ian Wallace, the former Coventry City striker, has clearly taken his undoubted skills into the managerial arena at Dumbarton in the Second Division. The side which had failed to secure a home win for 13 months won 4-1 at top-of-the-table Ayr United to give Wallace a record of three victories and a draw from his four games in charge.