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don't look back in anger celtic in the 90s
season 94-95: part 3

(relax, we win this time).

During the 80s Celtic had acquired a kind of tradition. Fans knew it as the October of Despair - a time when seemingly simple home fixtures became nightmarishly tough, and heavy defeats away from home were not uncommon. Defeats such as 4:1 and 4:2 at Pittodrie and 3:0 to an incredibly bad Rangers team in 1985 were the order of the day. McNeill had managed to avoid the October form slump in 1987, but ever since then it had definitely been 'Avert your eyes' time.

Liam Brady, you may recall, was hit particularly badly during this most awful of months. During his first season October involved fixtures against Neuchatel Xamax and a 4:3 defeat at Brockville.

Now Tommy Burns was about to get his first managerial taste of a Celtic October.

Against Motherwell at Fir Park Celtic hammered their way into a first half lead thanks to Andy Walker. Recalled to the international squad, the striker strolled through the home defence to score a goal worthy of somebody preparing to play at a level way above the SPL. Unfortunately Mike Galloway dropped us back into the watery depths with an own goal in the dying minutes.

Aberdeen visited Hampden a week later. With exception of a fine Gordon Marshall save and a Phil O'Donnell effort which clattered off a post it was a complete waste of time. In fact it was even worse that the 1990 Cup final played at the same venue between the same teams.

These games were poor fare indeed for Hoops fans, but they were matches redolent with soccer of the finest quality compared to what came next. Back-to-back defeats against Hearts at Tynecastle (0:1) and Falkirk at Hampden (0:2) sent us tumbling down the league in a veritable tailspin. Hearts were actually suffering a run of poor form themselves (this had started round about 1954 and has continued almost uninterrupted to the present day) so it was something of a surprise to neutrals that they were able to dish out Celtic's first defeat of the season - although to veterans of many a Celtic October it wasn't exactly a seismic shock. All the usual ingredients for a grand day out at Swinecastle in the mid 90s were present that day: a midden with a pitch in the middle, no cover from the incessant rain and pishy wet cushions to sit on. Whiling away the time making religious icons in the shape of crosses out of the cushions and waving them threateningly at the Gorgie Gargoyles the way Peter Cushing used to do to Christopher Lee in all those Hammer movies (admittedly with similar effects) did nothing to prevent the inevitable freak goal.

Against the Bairns, the Blunts squandered chance after gilt-edged chance provided by Collins and Nicholas while the Sieve continued their extended run as the rear end of a pantomime horse. This defeat also signalled the end of Lee Martin's Celtic career after he suffered a broken leg during the game. He was never the greatest of players, but our already wafer thin squad was now stretched even further. Barry Smith was drafted in to cover.

Respite came in the shape of the League Cup semi-final. Rangers had been eliminated from the competition by Falkirk, so the cup was certainly up for grabs. The semi-final between Celtic and Aberdeen was basically seen as the match that would to all intents decide the eventual winners, given that in the final they would play First Division Raith Rovers.

Because Celtic's league games were being played at Hampden it was felt that we would have an advantage if the tie was played at the National Midden, so Ibrox was the venue. Tommy Burns sprang a surprise with his team selection when he drafted in Paul Byrne on the right wing for the first time. It worked well. For the first time in weeks we had a threat in the opposition penalty box. But for all his efforts Byrne and his team mates couldn't conjure up a goal.

The tension inside the ground was quite incredible and, unfortunately, the desperation of the fans was clearly being transmitted to the players on the pitch. After 90 minutes the score was still 0:0, although we did suffer a serious scare in the last minute as a deflected Aberdeen effort trundled inches past the post. It remained goalless through the first period of extra time as well. Naturally, during the second period everyone started to consider penalties - without any great relish it has to be said.

Then Celtic were awarded a free kick on the right of the Aberdeen box. The ball was curled in and Brian O'Neil flicked it off his head and into the corner of the net. The Celtic fans went wild. Aberdeen didn't have anything left to try and get back into the game, and after only four months in the job Tommy Burns was now one game away from relieving the five year trophy drought. It was a much needed boost for everybody and the euphoria lasted all of... four days.

The Sunday after the Aberdeen game Rangers came visiting Hampden. After their marvellously bad start to the season they had settled into a winning pattern, helped by the fact that Brian Laudrup was revelling in the opportunity to play football in a country where he was possibly the only man who could run very fast and control a football at the same time. OK, fair's fair he was an extremely good player, and we certainly wouldn't have turned him down. But you could say that his failure while with the likes of Munich, Fiorentina, Milan and Ajax, not to mention his anonymity while playing in European competition for Rangers, suggested some problems with top flight football.

We approached the game with supreme confidence and that should have been an alarm bell in itself. Of the last six league meetings between the teams Celtic had only lost once and Collins had scored in the last four. The way we had played them off their own pitch in August suggested we might have their number again this time. We didn't.

Rangers played their new starlet Charlie Miller, rumoured to have been a Celtic fan in his youth. After 20 minutes it was he who created the first goal, winning possession from the Celtic defence and playing in Hately who smashed the ball past Marshall. The game had been fairly even until that point, although the Hoops looked pretty uncomfortable at the back, especially Smith, who was up against Laudrup.

Ten minutes after falling behind we equalised thanks to a superb curling shot from Paul Byrne. Celtic had the momentum now and Rangers looked like they might be about to crack. At least, that's how it seemed for the frantic three minutes which followed the goal. However, before we had time to say, 'I think we can do them', the ball was fed to Laudrup. He left Smith for dead and played it to the near post where Hately charged in to score. It all had a dreadful air of inevitability about it.

Things didn't improve much in the second half. A cross from the right was met perfectly by Walker, but his header landed on top on the crossbar and went behind. From the resultant goal kick Hately flicked the ball on and Laudrup sped away from the Celtic defence, rounded Marshall and rolled it in to secure the points.

Before the next match TB ventured back into the transfer market, this time securing the signature of Hearts left back and former Celtic Boys Club player Tosh McKinlay. He wasn't the most exciting player in the world, but with the loss of Lee Martin we were badly exposed at the back. McKinlay also had the advantage of being naturally left footed, and capable of delivering a fantastic cross. If only we had someone to take advantage of such a thing.

McKinlay's debut came at Tannadice, where Collins twice gave Celtic a lead which they were unable to hold. The tangerines had been peeled open in the first half but the home side introduced Jerron Nixon in the second and, as at Hampden in the corresponding home fixture, he bedazzled the Sieve to set up the second equaliser.

With the League Cup final approaching we appeared to be in the grip of a terrible paralysing fear. Our next game, at Hampden against Thistle was shocking, even by the low standards we had set ourselves in recent years, 0:0 in a stultifying spectacle of anti-football. To add to the general confusion, the manager's decision making process was becoming ever stranger and difficult to fathom. During the game against Thistle young forward John O'Neill came on a second half substitute. He hadn't appeared in the first team before, he didn't really ever feature again, and this was on the eve of a cup final!

Tension was mounting, and every one of the players knew that the fans expected the trophy.

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1990-91 pt 1
1990-91 pt 2
1990-91 pt 3
1990-91 pt 4
1991-92 pt 1
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1992-93 pt 1
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1993-94 pt 1
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