MAURICE Johnston put pen to paper at Goodison Park yesterday as

expected and completed his #1.55m transfer, while it was business as

usual for those he left behind at Ibrox.

Rangers' first-team squad were busy preparing for tonight's

premier-division match against Hibernian at Easter Road, but Johnston, a

player who helped maintain interest in Scottish football, was long gone

and saying how much he was looking forward to making his home debut for

Everton when they play Notts County on Saturday.

With the true insincerity of the wandering footballer, he was able to

make it sound as though the club he was in the process of joining was

the only one for him. ''I'm delighted. I've left a big club to come to a

big one,'' he said, ''and I'm excited again by the challenge of the

English first division.''

The 28-year-old striker, who has signed for three and a half years,

said he had to leave Rangers because he had lost his first-team place to

Ally McCoist, the player he had kept out for long spells last season.

''Ally is the most popular player there and I hadn't been playing for

the last month, which meant I had to look closely at my situation,'' he

added. ''Everton came in and I had to go, although I have the highest

regard for Rangers.

''I would like to stress there was no animosity between myself and the

manager, Walter Smith, or David Murray. Rangers have been very good to

me and, if I had all of my career in front of me again, I would have

signed with the same clubs.''

Johnston lost his place because he was handicapped by a slight injury

and found he couldn't get his place back, such was the competition for

places among the Ibrox strikers, and Smith hopes this competitive edge

will remain even though Johnston has gone. It is the manager's intention

to bring John Spencer and Gary McSwegan into play more often to

challenge the McCoist and Mark Hateley partnership.

Smith took time out from preparing the team for this evening's game to

talk about Johnston's contribution over the past two and a half years.

''I don't think anyone who has worked with Maurice could say he ever

gave less than 100%,'' he said. ''If he gives as much to Everton as he

gave to us they will be pleased.''

The Ibrox manager also said that it was not his intention to transfer

Johnston, but he had no choice when Everton pressed home their interest.

''When a player like Maurice is sitting on the bench, other big clubs

make enquiries. Everton needed a big-name striker and that's exactly

what they've got,'' he said.

His new manager, Howard Kendall, is in no doubt Johnston will be a

success in his second stint in English football and he said: ''My

interest in this player goes back a number of years and I remember

watching him play for Partick Thistle against Meadowbank. Afterwards I

tried to sign him for #50,000 but Watford paid much more than that.

''Now I have managed to sign him and at 28 I believe he is at his

peak. It also says a lot for his character that he was able to sign for

Rangers and overcome the problems that entailed.''

Kendall was able to finance his move for Johnston with the money he

received for Mike Newell, who went to Blackburn for #1.1m, and the money

Rangers have received will help pay their costs for signing Dale Gordon.

Johnston, who was dropped by Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh for last

week's game against San Marino, would not be drawn on his feelings

regarding the international front, saying only that he wants to continue

playing for his country, but there may be more on that. It is believed

the striker is unhappy that he was left out and used only as a


There is no doubt that when at the top of his form Johnston is an

exciting player and one capable of doing more than scoring goals. He has

a good level of awareness and has a good touch, but Rangers didn't miss

him on Saturday when they beat Airdrie 4-0 and tonight they will attempt

again to prove there is life after Johnston.

Hibs have not been beaten on their own patch and Smith said his

players hope to be the first lot to go to Easter Road and win. Of

course, they all realise they will have to be on form, and Alexei

Mikhailichenko has been added to the squad which dismantled Airdrie.

By way of stark contrast, Alex Miller has dreadful problems because of

injury and suspension. David Fellenger, who was taken off injured in the

2-1 win against Dunfermline on Saturday, has a broken leg and he will

have to go into hospital at the end of this week for an operation to

repair damage to ankle ligaments.

Miller is still unable to call on Billy Findlay, Callum Milne, and

Mark McGraw, all long-term casualties, and Neil Orr, Graham Mitchell,

and Mickey Weir are still unfit. Gareth Evans suffered concussion on

Saturday and Willie Miller also is unavailable, because of suspension.

''It's a real struggle, but we just have to get on with it,'' said the

manager. That's the stuff, and if they come through they will be

entitled to a handsome bonus. The loose change from Johnston's

signing-on fee to be split among them would do nicely.