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JJ'S STARTED SO HE'LL FINN-ISH.

HIBS 0 RANGERS 1

SUPERSUB Jonatan Johansson twisted a knife in the guts of absent Hibs boss Alex McLeish and handed the sickened SPL new boys their first defeat of the season.

JJ climbed off the bench to settle this with a hotly disputed 69th minute goal as big Eck stayed home after his midweek appendix op.

There's a good chance watching the offside flag stay down as the Gers' hero raced clear would have burst the Easter Road manager's stitches.

The significance of every match Rangers play following their entry into the Champions League was shown by one swarthy visitor here.

The immaculately-tailored Valencia general manager watched the action intensely from the stand, constantly muttering comments into a tape recorder.

Those sides clash in a Group F opener in Spain on September 15 but the immediate concern here for Dick Advocaat's team was coping with a Hibs midfield that has been brimming with imagination since the season's first whistle.

As early as the fourth minute they'd shown that once more as Russel Latapy foxed the champs to clip a corner back out 30 yards to Franck Sauzee who ripped in a shot that Lionel Charbonnier had to fist away.

The glory of midweek had been soaked up but Rangers knew this was no place for a sluggish Saturday and Andrei Kanchelskis - making his first start of an injury- hampered season - set up Michael Mols for a cross that Michael Renwick had to scramble behind with Neil McCann ready to pounce.

Tony Vidmar's thirst for goals after that strike against Parma continues to drive him forward.

Another surging run here saw Oli Gottskalksson save his drive before Gers' skipper Amoruso earned the game's first yellow card for bundling into the back of Dirk Lehmann.

Hibees' Shaun Dennis soon joined him for a cynical foul on McCann as the league leaders - with Barry Ferguson a growing influence in the struggle to control midfield - began to seize a grip after a shaky start.

Injury to Rod Wallace had created a space for Kanchelskis in the Light Blues' line-up but an eager opening was almost wrecked by a sloppy ball that allowed Latapy to surge clear.

The Trinidad and Tobago star fed second-time-around Hibee Grant Brebner but the the former Scotland under- 21 skipper saw his shot sear over.

Yet there were signs the champions were edging nearer an opener and Giovanni van Bronckhorst teed up Kanchelskis perfectly for a low right-foot drive. Gottskalksson, though, had his angles judged to the inch and smothered well.

All over the pitch there was passing and poise but precious little penetration until a flowing Hibs move looked set to spring Lehmann and Amoruso piled in powerfully.

This time the verdict was that the former Fulham striker had thrown himself and ref Rowbotham got it right.

Meanwhile, an intriguing midfield battle was developing between veteran Sauzee and fledgling Ferguson as they sought the vital breakthrough.

Mols had his first sniff of that strike from a Dariusz Adamczuk cross but he'd had to check back to get there and screwed his effort into the turf and the arms of Gottskalksson.

The Polish international was having a productive afternoon raiding down the right and three minutes from the break he was once more the provider with a ball in for a flashing header from McCann that brought a stunning near- post stop from the Hibs keeper.

Now it was simmering and on the brink of the break a bad call from ref Rowbotham sparked frenzy as Craig Moore was wrongly booked after Lehmann flicked the ball up and did little more than turn and run into the Aussie defender.

The superb Sauzee needed no more invitation to smash in the free-kick. Charbonnier pawed clear and Dennis missed the chance of his life by rattling the bar with the goal gaping.

Advocaat is not a manager who will let performances idle away when they look destined not to glean all three points and once more we saw the half- time hook.

This time it was for Kanchelskis with Johansson - who scored twice in his nation's 4- 3 victory in Belgium last week - given his chance to stake a claim.

There was always the danger of a Euro hangover and an increasingly jaded looking Gers were labouring forward when Derek Collins picked up the game's fourth booking for a late lunge on the impressive Adamczuk.

Then suddenly Rangers showed their teeth to spring clear.

A slick Mols lay-off sent McCann away only for his floating cross to find a weak back post volley from Johansson.

Now it was clear how much their heroics in Parma had drained the champions and Vidmar was sacrificed for Jorg Albertz.

Before kick-off the tannoy suggestion that this was the Battle of the Champions had seemed shallow but last season's First Division title kings were holding their own admirably.

And they almost edged in front when Paul Hartley intelligently shielded a quick free-kick eight yards out to spin off Moore only to thunder his shot right at Charbonnier.

That miss was to prove oh so costly for the brave Easter Road side.

Almost immediately van Bronckhorst and McCann shuttled the ball to Albertz whose crisp pass set JJ free to draw Gottskalksson and slide the ball beneath him for the winner.

Still there was time for more drama as the alert Charbonnier clawed a Sauzee free- kick away.

The corner saw John Hughes' header cleared off the line before Pat McGinlay's rebound was scrambled past by the relieved Gers defence.

For the second time in a week guts and guile had given the Ibrox side the result they craved.

TEAMS ++ TEAMS ++ TEAMS ++ TEAMS ++

HIBS: Gottskalksson; Renwick, Hughes, Dennis, Collins; Brebner, Sauzee, Latapy, McGinlay; Hartley, Lehmann. Subs: Colgan (gk), Paatalainen, Henry, Miller, Dempsie.

RANGERS: Charbonnier; Adamczuk, Moore, Amoruso, Vidmar; van Bronckhorst, B. Ferguson, Reyna; Kanchelskis, Mols, McCann. Subs: Niemi (gk), Albertz, Hendry, Johansson, Nicholson.

REF: J. Rowbotham (Kirkcaldy).
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:King, Iain
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 29, 1999
Words:991
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