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don't look back in anger celtic in the 90s
season 91-92: part 4

The recovery from the Xamax debacle began with a 5:0 win at Love Street, followed by a convincing 4:0 home victory against St. Johnstone, which, in turn, set Celtic up nicely for...oh dear, Ibrox.

It would be safe to say that Celtic were not looking forward to the second Old Firm game of the season. Ibrox in recent years had been the place where nightmares are born, what with sound gubbings (5:1 and 4:1), last minute winners by the likes of Maurice Johnston and acts of complete self -destruction on the part of assorted Celtic defenders. Rangers' form had been excellent, Celtic's hadn't, although Nicholas had been scoring freely, and the midfield was beginning to take shape very nicely with McStay, Collins and the young O'Neil forming a potent trio. The defence, on the other hand, was still living down to its Sieve epithet.

Apart from Celtic's own kamikaze defenders the biggest threat came from the Rangers striking duo of Hately and McCoist and the overlapping of Gary Stevens.

The first half developed as we all feared - Rangers had all the possession, Hately was giving the defence problems, Celtic looked increasingly unstable and it seemed only a matter of time before a goal was conceded. But the beleagured defence held out until the break and the Hoops re-emerged a changed team. Brady had clearly told them to stop watching the game, get involved, get the ball down and pass it.

Almost immediately Celtic took control of the game. McStay and Collins began to bypass the Rangers midfield and suddenly a Celtic goal looked more likely. Then, as always, the sucker punch. Rangers made a rare foray up the right hand side which ended with a cross to the near post, where McCoist had eluded his marker to head past Bonner. Outrageous.

Having just been kicked in the nethers Brady made a bold substitution that was to be decisive. O'Neil made way for Chris Morris, and Charlie came off for... Cascarino. He did get a cheer from the Celts in the Broomloan stand; he got a bigger cheer from the Rangers enclosure. But they would soon be choking on their sarcastic mockery. There didn't appear to be much danger; Bonner had punted the ball into the Rangers half where Spackman had collected it and had all the time in the world to pick a pass. He stopped, turned round and decided to pass back to Goram. But lurking behind Gough was the vast hulk of Tony C. As soon as Spackman hit the ball he let out a scream of horror. Gough couldn't react quickly enough and the ball was on Cascarino's right, his bad foot (imagine how bad that must have been!). Incredibly he slipped the ball between Goram's legs and the Broomloan went nuts. It still ranks as one the funniest goals of the decade. Not for the fact that it was a suicidal pass, but just for the fact that one of the worst ever forwards to darken Celtic Park was given - and took - the chance to kick the old enemy in the ching chongs - especially after the welcome he got from that Rangers enclosure.

But even from this moment of fleeting glory Cascarino managed to grab a modicum of defeat. Just two minutes later he was left with a free header in the six yard box only to put the ball well wide of the target.

Nevertheless, not only was a valuable point gained, but a hoodoo was overcome. This was the first truly deserved point Celtic had taken from Ibrox since March 1988.

With the boost of the Old Firm game still in mind Celtic looked to the daunting task of overcoming a four goal advantage against Xamax. On the plus side an away goal had been scored, and the team had been scoring freely since the humiliation in Switzerland. Realism was once more giving way to irrational optimism.

On the night Celtic started like a whirlwind and after only four minutes a penalty was awarded against the Swiss. Celtic Park was in raptures. Hopes were high that a Sporting Lisbon style comeback could be achieved, and here was a golden opportunity in the first five minutes to get the comeback started in earnest. Stepping up to take the kick was Charlie Nicholas who had a 100% record from the spot so far. But from somewhere deep in the bowels of Celtic Park the ghost of Dixie Deans emerged to help Charlie sky the ball clear over the bar and into the pie stall at the back of the Celtic End. The disappointment could almost be tasted, mingled as it was with the drips of spilled Bovril.

Although Celtic scored in the second half through Joe Miller, the game was over as soon as the penalty was missed. The heads had dropped and the shoulders had sagged lower than Paul Gascoigne's belly button. Oddly enough everyone who was at that game probably still feels that if Charlie had scored that penalty Celtic would have had a good chance of going through.

In order to patch up the leaky defence in the wake of another untimely European exit the manager had delved (or "swooped" if you work for one of the tabloids) back into the transfer market. Tony Mowbray, the Middlesborough captain, was bought for 1m. A tall "no nonsense" type of defender, he seemed a far more suitable replacement for Paul Elliott than Gillespie, who had not been impressing much. Brady's team had undoubtedly been lacking something in character, as witnessed by their reaction to the setback against Xamax. This criticism could not be made of the new centre half. When Middlesborough were in the hands of the receiver, and the ground had its gates locked, Mowbray took the rest of the players training in the local park until the ground re-opened. No one was allowed to slack off.

His debut was at home to Aberdeen, and celtic fell behind in the sixth minute. Darn. However, this sparked off one of the best performances of the of the season. Both McStay and Nicholas were playing superbly, and ten minutes after the Dons had taken the lead the Maestro robbed Bett before threading a superb pass through to Nicholas who rounded the keeper before slotting the ball behind a defender and into the bottom corner. A fantastic goal. The winner came courtesy of Gerry Creaney, who dived full length to head past Snelders and win a badly needed 2 points. It could have been a dream debut for Mowbray if his first half shot from all of 30 yards had come in an inch or so; as it was it thudded of the junction of bar and post.

Next stop Tynecastle, and a controversial game. Celtic had taken the lead through Coyne - his 100th Premier League goal - but had found themselves pegged back in the second half. Hearts swung in a corner, the ball bobbled about, a shout went up from a Celtic defender for everyone to move out for offside, leaving three Hearts players stranded. A shot went in, Bonner was impeded by one of the offside players, and the ball went in. The goal was given. Even with three players offside, and a foul on the goalie the goal stood. Bonner went ballistic, and got carded for his trouble. Hearts now had the upper hand and scored two more before the end.

During this game our new centre half, who had enjoyed 10 injury free years prior to joining Celtic, suffered knee ligament damage. He would play a total of 6 games during his first four months with the club. Brady must have been wondering whoever coined the phrase 'the luck of the Irish'.

The following week saw Pat Bonner dropped for the first time as Celtic first team goalie. His form had been very shaky of late, and that, coupled with the sudden purchase of Marshall at the start of the season had placed his gloves on a shaky peg.

Broomfield was the venue for Chunky's debut, and the crowd in the away supporters terracing were soon exchanging worried glances. During the warm-up period, as was customary in those days, the goalie would face a series of shots fired in by physio Brian Scott. Marshall didn't get anywhere near any of them, and Brian Scott is no Marco Van Basten. However, these fears turned out to be unfounded as the Celts turned over the home side by the convincing margin of 3:0.

It turned out to be quite a day for Celtic's lumbering centre forward Cascarino as well. He scored the opening goal, and anyone who was at the pre-season game against Shamrock Rovers in Dublin will have seen a carbon copy of the goal in that game. He received the ball with his back to goal, controlled it with his left foot (a minor miracle in itself), held off his opponent off with his arse (the one area of his game he didn't have difficulty with), before turning inside and hitting a low, curling shot into the far corner. It was almost a party piece - his one impressive shot! That aside, he also managed to end the career of one of the trackside cops. Chasing after a ball towards the touchline he lumbered off the pitch and straight into the back of an unsuspecting WPC. She was taken off to hospital with a badly damaged back, and eventually had to retire from the force.

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