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don't look back in anger celtic in the 90s
season 95-96: part 3

After our exotic European adventure against Paris and an away trip to Motherwell (about as exotic as a zookeeper's welly) the next fixture was Ibrox. This was the one we'd waited months for, our chance to finally avenge two defeats to Rangers in the league earlier in the season. Four points separated the teams, although Rangers had scored more goals, and had a better defensive record. Celtic wasted no time in letting them know they were in for a game as proceedings were beamed live on STV with millions more around the world watching on satellite .

Ten minutes into the game Andreas Thom gathered the ball 35 yards from goal. He ran forward unchallenged for a further 10 yards before lashing an unstoppable shot behind Goram. It nearly took the net out. Given the trouble we were to have against Goram in future games this seems an improbably easy goal, but the sheer force of the shot was immense. Rangers roared back in to the match and the Hoops were finding themselves pinned back, not only by their desire to equalise, but also, apparently by amazement that we'd actually taken the lead.

Rangers' pressure eventually told when David Robertson overlapped down the left and slid the ball under Gordon Marshall. On TV Rangers celebrated, the scoreline caption changed to 1:1 and the game appeared to continue. However, inside the stadium the fans knew there was a different story. As Robertson overlapped, the Govan Stand side linesman raised his flag - wrongly as it turned out - for offside and the goal was disallowed. TV pictures clearly showed it was a colossal error. Robertson wasn't even remotely offside and, of course, ever since then that incident has been brought up as evidence that Celtic get the benefit of just as many controversial decisions in these games as Rangers. One decision in 10 years. Be grateful.

Rangers equalised for real before half time and the teams went in 1:1. The second half was a real battle; 5 minutes in Collins lofted a free kick into the box. Hughes appeared to be favourite to get there before Gough until the Rangers captain hauled him to the ground. Penalty! For us! At Ibrox!! Our first there in over 10 years!! Nothing to do with the aforementioned worldwide audience on satellite TV of course. Oh no. Collins stepped up and rolled the ball into the corner (almost a bit too casually - Goram was uncomfortably close to it).

Once again we were in the lead but once again the players appeared none too confident about it, allowing themselves to be pinned back in their own box. Eventually Rangers won a free kick on the right hand side of the box. When it came in McCoist lost his marker and headed the ball in. Worse was to follow. Tom Boyd tried to be a bit clever at the bye line but succeeded only in gifting the ball to them. The resulting cross was bundled in by a combination of McCoist and Tosh McKinlay. Unbelievable. Having led twice we now had to chase the game. But not for long. Almost straight from kick off Tosh McKinlay was played in down the left. His precision cross was guided in at the back post by an excellent header from Pierre van Hooijdonk. Both teams seemed to settle for a point at that stage and the game finished 3:3.

It had been a tremendous match, not marred with the usual glut of fouls and petulance that often blight these occasions. Yet at the end of it we still hadn't beaten them and they were still ahead in the league. Truth be told this was a tonic for the Huns. They had been on the receiving end of some of the most comprehensive Champions League beatings ever dished out in the weeks leading up to this game; Juventus had demolished them 8:1 over two matches, the Rangers goal being a deflected free kick as they were trailing by three in Turin. It certainly provided some first class Wednesday evening entertainment.

The genuine challenge for the league had created an even bigger demand for tickets at Celtic Park and in an attempt to satisfy demand the directors decided to construct a temporary stand at the West End of the stadium, that being the area of the ground that would be developed last. It had been due to open for the game against PSG, but a computer glitch had prevented that (at least that's what the Celtic View said and who are we to argue?). Its grand opening was not until December and a group of lucky schoolchildren from Ireland were the first to sample its unique charms when we played our next game against Hearts.

The match was memorable for two things; a John Collins hat-trick (one penalty, after the Hearts goalie had attempted to launch Andreas Thom like a V2 rocket - he subsequently claimed our German forward had dived - and two quite fantastic shots from outside the box) and the scoring appearance of one Pasquale Bruno, former understudy to the king of the bloodied shinguard, Claudio Gentile, star of the Juventus murder squad of the early 80s. As if Hearts needed to add a physical edge to their game.

Next up were Kilmarnock in a game that deserves to live long in the memory. After starting well Celtic found themselves a goal down after ten minutes. No real problem. We were playing decent stuff. After 30 minutes we're two down, and what's more it's down to an error by Marshall. Cue weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Now we're not playing so well. With only a few seconds to go until half time - and the crowd not in the mood to hear the half time whistle -Peter Grant made his mark as he threw himself at an Andreas Thom cross to pull a goal back. The Killie players seemed to sense a change in the mood and didn't appear in any great hurry to take the kick off. It wasn't difficult to see why when the game restarted and Celtic were straight in about them again. Before you had time to say 'it's freezing in this temporary stand' McStay was on the ball. He threaded a perfect pass to Thom who feinted to shoot one way before planting the ball with the other. 2:2, two goals within a minute rescuing a bad situation. The team went in at the interval to rapturous applause. The second half was a turkey shoot as Killie were simply blown away. Two goals from Pierre sealed it.

At this time we said goodbye to two Celts; Mark McNally and Willie Falconer. Nobody was shedding too many tears over their departures to Southend and Motherwell respectively. They had both done their best for the club (Willie had of course brought down the old board) and they both left with a shiny Scottish Cup winners badge in their pocket (and a Tennets Sixes medal for McNally). To balance this out, Tommy Burns went back in to the transfer market and bought Morten Wieghorst from Dundee. This was something of a surprise in that there had been no speculation linking Celtic with the player, but he had made quite a name for himself in recent years, getting selected for the Danish squad a couple of times. He certainly appeared to be a worthwhile addition to the squad (even if he appeared none too thrilled when TB suggested at the press conference that he might play the odd game at central defence).

He made his debut at Easter Road on the day when Chic Young announced that this was a Celtic team capable of winning the league. The previous midweek Rangers had been on the end of one of their Juventus tankings. Chic had been waxing lyrical about the Italians just as Celtic scored the first goal of the afternoon. Chic, never a man to knowingly resort to hyperbole, announced that the goal had been constructed and executed in a manner as good as anything the masters of Juventus could have done. Jackie McNamara had scored it after some neat build up play between Donnelly and van Hooijdonk, the former lofting the ball to Jackie who volleyed it over Jim Leighton's head. O'Donnell added a second before half time, Pierre and Donnelly added two more in the second half. Even the press were now admitting that we were realistic challengers. Things were definitely hotting up.


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