DUNCAN Ferguson, the first professional footballer to be jailed for an on-the-field assault, fought off two burglars at his home yesterday. One was taken to hospital.

The former Rangers and Scotland player was praised by police for acting ''bravely and responsibly''.

The 6ft 4ins striker, who was jailed for an attack on an opponent when he played for Rangers, and has long had a reputation as a hard man on and off the pitch, tackled the intruders at his house near Ormskirk, Lancashire, at about 1am.

One man, whom Ferguson detained after a scuffle, was taken by ambulance to hospital but the other fled. Ferguson, 29, who now plays for Everton, suffered minor injuries to his head but did not need hospital treatment.

Lancashire Police said the householder had asked not to be named but sources at Everton confirmed Ferguson was involved. Local residents said a police helicopter had circled the modern house in the village of Rufford.

Inspector Steve Sansbury said officers attended a report of a burglary near Ormskirk at about 1.05am and found one alleged offender still on the premises, having been detained by the householder.

He said: ''One of the alleged offenders was taken to hospital for treatment to injuries sustained in a scuffle with the householder. Another alleged offender fled the scene. Police inquiries are continuing to trace him.'' He added: ''We are satisfied that the homeowner, who was also injured in the incident, acted both bravely and responsibly when encountering these intruders in his home.''

Mr Sansbury said a 21-year-old man was arrested and has been detained at Ormskirk General District Hospital.

Susan Smith, who lives close to Ferguson's house, a converted barn, said: ''I knew something was wrong because the helicopter doesn't fly round here very often, yet yesterday it kept on buzzing over.

''We didn't see any commotion or police cars or anything but we thought something must have happened.''

Ferguson began his professional career with Dundee United and later moved to Rangers in what was then a British transfer record fee of #4m.

He became the first professional footballer to be jailed for an on-the-field assault and served 44 days of a three month sentence in Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow, in 1995 after headbutting John McStay, a former Raith Rovers defender, during a match at Ibrox. He was convicted at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

It was his fourth conviction. In 1991 he was convicted of head-butting a policeman in Stirling and fined #125.

The following year, he was fined #200 after he punched and kicked a postman who was on crutches.

In the third assault, at Anstruther, Fife, in 1992, an argument took place in a pub and a fisherman was knocked to the ground.

Ferguson was given a lifeline with a #4m move south to Everton, but on the eve of his first Merseyside derby, he failed a breath test, which cost him #500 and a one-year driving ban.

The incident did not hinder his performance, however, and he scored against Liverpool, and instantly became a legend at Goodison Park.

Injuries continued to plague him after a move to Newcastle, and he returned to Everton at the beginning of this season.

He has won seven caps for Scotland but said in 1998 that he was not interested in playing for his country again, although Craig Brown, Scotland coach, said he would keep the door open for him to return to international football.