Partick Thistle 1, Rangers 2

PARTICK Thistle finished with only nine of their men on the Firhill pitch yet they could have held Rangers to a draw. That Thistle could not be subdued was testimony to the remarkable spirit of survival which burns within this club but also Rangers' inability to reach out and claim the points with any noticeable degree of confidence.

The Ibrox side were without Gordon Durie, who has been scoring freely for them in recent times, and their main striker, Ally McCoist, but that is not an acceptable excuse.

Brian Laudrup is not a legitimate striker and although Charlie Miller has played in front lines before he is more comfortable in a deeper role. As for Peter van Vossen, who played his first full 90 minutes for Rangers, the jury must remain out, but without wishing to prejudice the verdict it has to be said the Dutchman looked uncertain of what he was supposed to be doing.

His touch and his movement were not what one would expect from a footballer of his reputation and experience and, indeed, there were times when he looked like another Oleg Salenko. Rangers fans can only hope van Vossen is in need of games to fit in properly.

They must hope also that Richard Gough, who was ill and couldn't play against Thistle, recovers in time to resume this weekend because without him at the heart of the defence there was a lack of leadership and purpose. Gordan Petric and Alan McLaren are not particularly sound and no fault can be placed at the feet of John Brown, who was substituted in the second half, because before this season opened he had thought his playing days were more or less at an end.

Stuart McCall did a sterling job in midfield and also was an able stand-in for the captain, driving his players forward in that scurrying, bustling style of his. The Scottish internationalist is not the most gifted player at Ibrox, but the strength of his desire makes him an integral part of the machine.

The players with all the skills, Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne, performed well enough and had Rangers' best strikers been available they probably would have been on the end of some of the deliveries into Thistle's goal area. On several occasions, Laudrup looked up after one of his surges only to see there was no one in the middle waiting to apply the finishing touch.

Sometimes van Vossen was there waiting, but he lacked the poise required to score.

Eventually, Thistle took heart from Rangers' failing and even after Rod McDonald, who scored Thistle's goal, had been dismissed in 57 minutes for a foul on John Brown, which brought him a second caution, the Firhill side tried to punish their opponents.

``I thought they worked really hard and made a few chances,'' said their manager, Murdo MacLeod.

``Wayne Foster ran himself into the ground and when the rest of them followed his example later we might have taken something from the game.''

Billy Macdonald, who won the sponsors man of the match award, also was sent off, but there were only seconds remaining when he departed rather dejectedly. He became involved with Gascoigne after having chased down Laudrup and frustration prompted him to kick out at the Englishman.

The referee was correct to send Macdonald off - ``He was pushed and elbowed during the game and he'll have learned a lesson,'' MacLeod observed - but Gascoigne could have gone the same way. On a couple of occasions he appeared to raise his elbows to fend off opponents and he really must be more careful. It doesn't do him any good to believe that he is always the victim because that is not at all the case.

However, when he concentrates on playing, he is a delight and his two goals were gems. The first, in 26 minutes, saw him a step ahead of everyone around him as he ran through the middle of Thistle's defence, inviting Miller to supply him and, when the ball was played through, Gascoigne calmly drew Nicky Walker from his line, drifted around him, and slipped the ball into the net.

He then jumped over an advertising board to stand before the Rangers fans and, when he returned to the pitch, referee Jim McGilvray was waiting to book him. It seemed churlish of the official since Gascoigne was not inciting anyone.

Rod McDonald's goal in 35 minutes also was well taken after Andy Goram had failed to clear an Ian Cameron corner. McDonald let the ball bounce once and his drive from an angle was fiercely struck and true.

Gascoigne scored the final goal of the game a minute later when, with the Thistle defenders backing off, he strolled to the edge of the penalty area before hitting the ball sweetly into the top right-hand corner of Walker's net. It was a marvellous goal which showed Gascoigne at his best.

Rangers were expected then to go on and put Thistle in their place, but it didn't work out that way with Gascoigne playing only in flashes thereafter.

At one point, he and Billy Macdonald wrestled in midfield with arms flailing and both could have been booked or even sent off, but McGilvray took no action. It was clear, however, that someone would leave the field and both Thistle players were in the bath before the others.

``We made life difficult for ourselves,'' said McCall, ``but two superb goals from Gascoigne got us through.''

q REAL Madrid celebrated the home debut of new coach Arsenio Iglesias by coming from behind to beat Real Betis 4-2 yesterday.

The Spanish champions were led to victory by teenage striker Raul Gonzalez, who scored his side's second goal in spectacular fashion.

q BORDEAUX manager Slavo Muslin said yesterday he had been sacked after his team's French Cup second-round defeat against third division Toulon.

The 42-year-old Yugoslav was appointed last summer but the French Division 1 team have slumped badly in the league and are struggling just above the relegation zone.

Saturday's 3-2 defeat in extra-time against Toulon capped a dreadful season for Bordeaux, relieved only by their success in the UEFA Cup in which they are due to play Italy's AC Milan in the quarter-finals in March.

Muslin said youth trainer Gernot Rohr, a former Bordeaux player who has stepped in previously as caretaker coach, would take over his position for the time being.