Rangers came from behind to defeat Celtic 3-2 at Ibrox in this afternoon’s ‘Old Firm’ encounter at Ibrox – going back to the top of the League in the process. Once again there was goals aplenty in the clash of the Glasgow Giants – today makes sixteen in the last three games, nine to Rangers.
The Ibrox men made just the one change from Wednesday – Maurice Ross replacing Kevin Muscat, who again missed out on a game against Celtic. With the McBride Brothers running the line, there was the unusual sight of Hugh Dallas as fourth official – as indeed he had been during the World Cup Final.
There was a nightmare start for Rangers with Celtic taking the lead in exactly 18.1 seconds – quite possibly the fastest-ever ‘Old Firm’ goal. The Ibrox defence was stationary as a long ball from Ulrik Laursen - straight from the kick-off – found John Hartson who squared for Chris Sutton to bundle the ball into the net despite the despairing efforts of Maurice Ross to clear the ball off the line.
It was almost as if the Ibrox defence had failed to notice that the game had started, the only consolation for the Rangers’ fans being that there was still 89.5 minutes left to play.
Shota Arveladze had a great chance to equalise in five minutes only to miss-kick a Barry Ferguson chip wide, but Rangers were level in the ninth minute when Craig Moore headed home a Fernando Ricksen corner.
It was a rare event indeed – Celtic losing a headed goal from a corner-kick, and many accusing glances were directed at goalkeeper Rab Douglas.
Nevertheless Celtic almost regained the lead (somewhat fortuitously) in 17 minutes when Stilian Petrov’s miss-hit shot almost fell perfectly for Hartson, who stretched forward to stab the ball against an upright.
The first yellow card of the game arrived in nineteen minutes when Hartson aimed a kick at Ferguson off the ball. The Celt could consider himself somewhat fortunate the card was not a harsher colour.
Rangers made an enforced change sixty seconds later when Maurice Ross, suffering from a calf injury, was replaced by Bob Malcolm. Fernando Ricksen moved back to right-back with Malcolm being deployed to shadow Chris Sutton in midfield.
Bobo Balde was yellow-carded in 26 minutes for a brutal tackle from behind on Lorenzo Amoruso – again a tackle that perhaps merited red.
Rangers concentrated on playing football however - and by now had gained the initiative, taking the lead in 34 minutes when Neil McCann for once got free wide on the left, evading Bobo Balde before crossing low and hard into the box where Ronald De Boer rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
Celtic almost responded immediately, a Steve Guppy free-kick two minutes later finding the head of John Hartson only for Stefan Klos to prove equal to the task, tipping the ball over the bar.
Neil Lennon was a lucky man in 38 minutes when he was rightly booked for a scything tackle on Ferguson, then with Referee Kenny Clark’s attention elsewhere, he booted the ball away.
All was academic sixty seconds later however when Rangers went 3-1 ahead – Ricksen’s penetrating run finding Arveladze who forced the ball into the path of Michael Mols who swept the ball home.
Celtic resumed on the offensive following the interval, Guppy’s inswinging corner in 49 minutes provoking a scramble in front of Klos with Hartson just failing to connect.
There was an even closer scare for the Light Blues six minutes later when substitute Alan Thompson’s cut-back sliced off Craig Moore, spinning towards goal only for Arthur Numan to scoop the ball away from the inrushing Didier Agathe.
Thompson was making an impact – testing Klos with a twenty-yard drive that the goalkeeper touched behind in 57 minutes, and then on the hour the sub’s cross found Henrik Larsson (invisible throughout) who squared for Hartson to rifle the ball home.
Rangers had been pushed back during this opening quarter-hour, although Celtic could again consider themselves fortunate to remain eleven strong when Hartson (already booked) appeared to elbow Craig Moore. The referee awarded a free-kick, but astonishingly took no further action.
Midway through the second-half Lorenzo Amoruso came so close to restoring Rangers’ two-goal advantage when he lined up a free-kick some forty yards out. So often the butt of jokes over his wild efforts, on this occasion he powered a stunning shot that left Douglas helpless only to come crashing back off an upright.
With Peter Lovenkrands and Claudio Caniggia on for Shota Arveladze and Michael Mols Rangers held out comfortably in the closing stages for a memorable win – their first in an ‘Old Firm’ League fixture for all of two years.
Manager Alex McLeish was restrained in his post-match comments:
"We started poorly, but reacted in a positive manner. There’s still a long way to go in the title race – we have to earn every win. The players deserve enormous credit."
Martin O’Neil was as always diplomatic and magnanimous in his assessment:
"We were absolutely brilliant, magnificent, terrific - but lost."
Questioned on the non-selection of Paul Lambert, he went ballistic: "Who are the people who say Lambert should play. Tell me their names."
With that, the Celtic Manager departed into the night one step ahead of the men in the white coats. Next stop Leeds perhaps?
RANGERS Klos; Ross, Moore (Malcolm 20), Amoruso, Numan; Ricksen, Ferguson, De Boer, McCann; Mols (Caniggia 83), Arveladze (Lovenkrands 64)
UNUSED SUBS McGregor, Hughes
CELTIC Douglas; Valgaeren, Balde, Laursen; Agathe, Lennon, Sutton, Petrov, Guppy (Thompson 52); Hartson, Larsson
UNUSED SUBS Gould, Lambert, Maloney, Crainey
REFEREE Kenny Clark