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Thursday, April 9, 1998 Published at 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK

Sport: Football

Celtic stride clear of Rangers
image: [ Celtic are now four points ahead of Hearts ]
Celtic are now four points ahead of Hearts

Celtic erased the memory of their Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Rangers last Sunday with a 2-1 win at Kilmarnock which took them three points clear of their Old Firm rivals at the top of the Scottish Premier division.

Their journey home will have been cheered with the news that their Edinburgh challengers, Hearts, slipped up at home, conceding a late equaliser from Motherwell's Tommy Coyne which leaves them third.

Questions had been asked about Celtic's nerve in the chase for their first league title in 10 years after two draws in their last three league matches and Sunday's cup defeat by Rangers.

But their confidence at Kilmarnock was boosted by a wonderful goal from Henrik Larsson in the 22nd minute.

The Swedish international met an inch-perfect cross from Phil O'Donnell on the left to head over Kilmarnock goalkeeper Gordon Marshall for his 18th goal of the season.

Kilmarnock, who are themselves chasing a UEFA Cup place, equalised in the 40th minute with Alex Burke pouncing to score from an acute angle.

But Simon Donnelly grabbed Celtic's winner in the 56th minute, chipping over Marshall after being sent clear by Darren Jackson.

Hearts looked like they would leapfrog Rangers into second place when winger Neil McCann seized on a blunder by Motherwell defenders Kevin Christie and Stephen McMillan to drive home a right-foot shot for his 12th goal of the season.

But McMillan made up for his error, helping to set up Motherwell's equaliser in the 79th minute. He burst into the area and cut the ball back for Coyne on the six yard box to score his 16th goal of the season.

Hearts manager Jim Jefferies said: "We dominated the game and that only changed after we scored. Then we sat back and Motherwell came into it. We have no-one to blame but ourselves.

"We are four points behind Celtic now, but there more twists and turns to come in this league yet."

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