RANGERS manager Walter Smith last night refused to concede the championship to Celtic, despite a near fatal defeat at Pittodrie that now leaves his side trailing three points and three goals behind their arch-rivals with just three games remaining.

In a match fuelled by hatred from the terracings and filled with its usual quota of controversy on the field, Aberdeen gained their first win in 12 league games for a result with massive consequences for both teams.

Aberdeen left behind the form that has seen them flirt with relegation for most of the season to win 1-0 with a headed goal in the first half from Stephen Glass, to virtually ensure their place in the new super league next season. For Smith, who will pass on the managerial baton to Dutchman Dick Advocaat this summer, it was an inexplicable reverse after recent results had revived their title hopes.

Nor could he give any reason for the dismissal of Italian defender Lorenzo Amoruso in 57 minutes, although it was apparently for violent conduct. The red card was waved at him during a confrontation between players from both teams after striker Gordon Durie had been brought down on the edge of the penalty area by John Inglis, and his loss killed any realistic chance his side had of salvaging a result.

Not that the champions deserved to, as they succumbed with a performance that lacked both guile and grit, qualities that had brought them into pole position in the title race in recent weeks. Nevertheless, their manager insisted: ''Previously, people have worked hard to keep the pressure on us, and we will work hard to keep it on Celtic now. That is what we will do.

''Obviously, this result does not help us in the championship. It was disappointing, and I felt that, in the first half, we let ourselves down. That cost us the game.

''In the second half, we picked up slightly and pinned Aberdeen back without creating any chances.

''I do not know why Amoruso was sent off. I could not tell you the reason.

''This was a scrappy game overall. Neither team got the ball down and neither were able to dictate. Aberdeen won most of the loose balls in the first half, while we did the same in the second half.''

If Rangers lose the cham- pionship, they will be left to rue having succeeded in taking just five out of a possible 12 against the Pittodrie side this season.

Aberdeen, enjoying their first league win since February 1995 over the Glasgow side, moved from second-bottom place to sixth in the premier division, seven points ahead of Hibernian. While many of their supporters in the 17,981 crowd were ecstatic at such a priceless victory, the more discerning must ponder why the same players can raise their game to such a level against Rangers and be so passionless against others.

That is a problem for their manager, Alex Miller, to solve in the future, but for the present he maintained: ''This was a major result given the situation we were in. I'm delighted for the players as we went into this game under serious pressure caused by the draw at Dunfermline yesterday.

''Over the piece, we deserved to win and could have won by even more goals. It was a thoroughly professional performance.

''Admittedly, it was not nice, pretty football - it was about winning football. We always knew it would be a physical contest and that we had to get the ball forward quickly and deliver support from midfield and defence.

''I always felt we were good enough to get out of this situation, because the four-point advantage we held meant a lot at this stage. Now we have a seven-point cushion over Hibs, but I don't think we are safe just yet.''

Miller made special mention of his three young players - Jamie Buchan, David Rowson, and Ricky Gillies - for the contribution made in securing such an important result. He pointed out: ''Young players come in and out of the team, but there comes a time when they must make their mark, and they did that today.

''For instance, I had never seen Rowson play at right-back before, yet he excelled against the calibre of opponent like Brian Laudrup and Gordon Durie. It was a severe test, but they came through with flying colours.''

As the match, and possibly the title, disappeared from Rangers' grasp, the sight of captain Richard Gough arguing with substitute Craig Moore about a misdirected passback summed up one of the bleakest days in the last decade for the Ibrox men.

qMatch report - Page 2