dunfermline 1

Scorers: Rangers Mols (3) Caniggia (16) Arveladze (30) de Boer (64) Thompson (67) Arteta pen (90+2);

Dunfermline Dair (11)

Barry Ferguson, his contributions in the final quarter of this unforgettable campaign enfeebled by injury, somehow found the strength not only to remain on the field for all 93 minutes of this engrossing encounter but to complete the lap of honour afterwards.

The Scotland midfielder has been a pale facsimile of his best form in recent weeks but, although consumed by self-doubt and grinding physical pain for much of that time, he looked like a man without a care in the world as he collected his first championship medal as Rangers captain, secured in the end on goal difference by just one strike.

As he took his two sons on to the podium to join his team-mates, it was apparent the sacrifices he has made to reach that stage will soon be forgotten at the end of an afternoon which will be burned in the memory of all those present.

On the day, he made few of the telling passes or surging runs which earned him the title of Scotland's Player of the Year but his presence was felt none the less as he coaxed, cajoled and berated his colleagues to still higher levels of frenzied activity.

Alex McLeish, the Rangers manager, mused before the kick-off on the possibility of the title being shared and, if ever such a scenario was merited, this was surely it. Football, however, whether through goal difference, goals scored, play-offs, silver goals, or penalties, demands winners and Rangers were not found wanting here.

There will be those who prefer to look at the outcome in terms of a tale of two penalties; the one Alan Thompson missed at Rugby Park and the rather soft award converted

by Mikel Arteta in the dying seconds at Ibrox.

Conjecture of that kind, though, is as pointless as the familiar debate about the physi-cal make-up which prevents one's aunt from being one's uncle.

Rangers were inarguably not found lacking in testicular fortitude when it mattered and their dismembering of Dunfermline was down more to unrelenting positivity and superior technique than any perceived capitulation on the part of the visitors. This championship did not so much go to the wire as slice right through it. It took until the final minute of injury time on the final day of the season before the destination of the SPL trophy was decided.

On an afternoon of dizzying, delirious theatre, the pendulum swung back and forth before Rangers forced the issue in their favour.

McLeish, against all odds, has now won the first four domestic trophies available to him since replacing Dick Advocaat 17 months ago. On Saturday, against Dundee in the Tennent's Scottish Cup final, he could make it five out of five and complete a remarkable

treble. Who would bet against it? There was a festival atmosphere at Ibrox long before the teams emerged for the warm-up, although most of the party songs being rendered would have been considered inappropriate for children's gatherings. One banner, hanging from the Copland Road stand, read: ''Obrigado Porto! Your win was our joy.'' No love lost there, then.

Rangers supporters celebrated before the kick-off as though their title deeds had already been signed and sealed: fortunately for McLeish, his players did not exhibit such complacency. There may have been a preponderance of red, white and blue balloons on the pitch but they were most certainly not wearing Rangers strips.

The tone was set as early as the second minute, when Ronald de Boer and Claudio Caniggia sashayed through the Dunfermline defence, allowing Michael Mols to turn Gus MacPherson before left-footing low past Derek Stillie.

A magnificent 20-yard strike from Jason Dair, following a sweeping move involving Stevie Crawford, Lee Bullen, and Craig Brewster, briefly restored parity but the quality of that strike was shrugged aside by a home team almost psychotically determined to prevail.

That commitment was evinced by Rangers' next two goals. First Fernando Ricksen chased a lost cause to the by-line and reaped his reward when Gary Mason's attempted clearance rebounded off him for Caniggia to prod home from 15 yards, his seventh goal of the season against the Pars.

Next Lorenzo Amoruso refused to give up on a wayward Ricksen free-kick, keeping it in play and then crossing for Shota Arveladze to glance a header beyond Stillie.

By half-time, with the scoreline from Ayrshire filtering through, the tension was almost a physical presence in the stadium. The turning point in this match, though, and - by extension - the season arrived in the 63rd minute when Stefan Klos threw himself to his left to beat away Dunfermline's only other notable effort, a long-range drive from Brewster.

It has been suggested that

de Boer is the only Rangers player Martin O'Neill covets but there can be no doubt that the German goalkeeper would command a place in Celtic's starting XI.

Galvanised by that escape, Rangers moved further ahead immediately when de Boer's rasping near-post header from McCann's driven free-kick left Stillie clutching air.

And so incident piled upon incident, drama upon drama until Rangers again benefited from a ricochet when Scott Wilson, who had twice earlier denied his former club with timely interventions, smashed a Neil McCann cross against the inrushing Steven Thompson who, without knowing a great deal about it, collected his second goal for the champions.

That status was confirmed in the dying seconds when Pars substitute Mark McGarty was judged by referee Stuart Dougal to have fouled McCann. Arteta sent Stillie right, the ball left and the crowd - including, curiously, the travelling support - into raptures. After that it was all over bar the sectarian chanting. McLeish addressed his public with dignity and humour once the trophy had been presented. His arrival at the club was seen by many as down-sizing after the reckless extravagance of the Advocaat era, mainly because that is what it was.

This big man, however, has proved - to Rangers' accountants as much as his predecessor - that less can mean more.