Scottish Football: Five in a row for Rangers: David McKinney reflects on the winning feeling that has become rather familiar to followers of the Ibrox club

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The Independent Online
THE JOY expressed by the Rangers players and supporters in winning a fifth successive Scottish League championship was not unconfined. Strong emotions are now kept for bigger occasions: cup finals and European ties. The championship is no longer an end in itself but the passport to another season of European Cup football.

The inevitability of their latest triumph diluted the sense of satisfaction. There was no danger and no tension: the lifeblood of this campaign had been drained several weeks ago and the sense of achievement instead revolves around its historical significance.

By winning a fifth successive title, this Rangers squad have equalled a club record set from between 1927 and 1931 and the present players can secure a domestic treble for the first time since 1978 if they beat Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final on 29 May - and that would be something to get worked up about.

For Walter Smith, too, some kind of renown beckons. He is already being compared to Bill Struth, the legendary Rangers manager, and few would argue about the one-time electrician's spark in the skills of tactics and man-management. He seems destined, in time, to earn a place in Ibrox folklore.

On Saturday his team won their 31st league game of the season, against Airdrie, with a goal by Gary McSwegan, who was deputising for the injured Ally McCoist. Perhaps a few removed their thoughts from the sunshine of Broomfield back to the dark days of February and Pittodrie, when a header by Mark Hateley skidded beyond the despairing grasp of Theo Snelders, the Aberdeen goalkeeper, to extend Rangers' lead to nine points. The league title, some would argue, was effectively won that night.

The players celebrated on Saturday and, in the absence of McCoist, brought out a life-size cardboard cut- out of their top striker, who has contributed 49 goals, 34 in the league. It would have been no surprise had the cardboard man popped in a goal before being carried back to the dressing-room.

Brockville also witnessed celebrations, with Falkirk producing their best display of the season in routing Hearts 6-0, thereby ending any hopes the Edinburgh club had of playing in Europe next season while giving Falkirk a fighting chance of retaining their top league status. With two games remaining, they trail Motherwell by two points. The teams meet next week.

Followers of Partick Thistle and Dundee, meanwhile, face sleepless nights before they can be sure of visiting Ibrox next season.

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