5 May 2010

Marc-Anotine Fortune, outjumps Steven Smith to head Celtic in front
Rangers' Maurice Edu is felled by Celtic's Andreas Hinkel

The airspace over Scotland and Ireland was closed last night because of an ash cloud in the atmosphere. Some ascribed that to the outpourings of a certain Icelandic volcano.

Those present in the east end of Glasgow on Tuesday night know better. It came from the dying embers of the Scottish season as they flared into life with the final Old Firm derby of the campaign.

This collision incorporated enough oddities for a lively quiz, although not Mastermind. The two goalkeepers who started did not finish, Allan McGregor departing the scene after only five minutes with a medial ligament injury and Artur Boruc leaving seven minutes after the break nursing two broken fingers.

David Weir, the Rangers captain, having won the first accolades of his career at the age of 40, capped an eventful passage by colliding with McGregor at the incident which saw the keeper stretchered off. After a lengthy stoppage, play resumed with a free kick awarded to Celtic for a foul committed by Kevin Thomson on Aiden McGeady.

The script called for Lee Naylor to test Neil Alexander with some form of direct effort from 25 yards, but the twist in the plot was that the Celtic full back kept his kick low and the Rangers defenders jumped, creating the gap through which the ball sped past McGregor's replacement, helped on by a deflection off the most unfortunate Weir.

Celtic Park erupted as it has rarely done in this dismal season for the club and the players responded by controlling proceedings with a passion and guile that has also been largely absent.
Neither Celtic nor Rangers, of course, can be sure who will be in charge of them when the new season opens, but the word on the pavement has been that Neil Lennon would emerge as prime contender to raise his status from caretaker manager if he could emerge from this fixture with the Parkhead side's first derby victory of the campaign.However, just when he was entitled to believe that his men would usher their narrow lead into the interval, the contest flipped.

In another peculiarity of the evening, each side fielded a makeshift centre back. Rangers had withdrawn Lee McCulloch from midfield to make up for the absences of Madjid Bougherra and Danny Wilson, the usual partners for Weir at the heart of the Ibrox back line. Celtic, meanwhile, had drafted Mark Wilson to cover for Josh Thompson, who made up the numbers on the bench.
It was Celtic's sticking plaster that peeled off first as Steven Whittaker made ground on the right to hang a cross into the box, where Kenny Miller beat Wilson to the jump for a glanced header between Boruc and his right hand post.

The Rangers forward then tempted fate and a caution – although he escaped censure from the referee – by making towards the Celtic support while kissing his badge – but it was the home support who savoured the last laugh within seconds as their team restored its lead with an identical strike.

In this case the overlapping full back was Naylor, the man on the end of the cross was Marc Antoine Fortune and the full back asked but unable to do a centre half's job was Steven Smith. Half time was enlivened by a repeated announcement declaring that an emergency had arisen within the stadium and instructing spectators to leave the stadium in an orderly fashion.

Having spent much of the season staying away from the place because of disdain at the fare on offer, the Celtic fans responded loudly that they had no intention of heading for the exits when their team had reached such a propitious juncture, thus providing proof that Bill Shankly might have been on the mark when he uttered his famous dictum about football and life and death.

The second half was almost inevitably an anti climax after what had gone before but there was still a slice of notoriety to be prised from the proceedings and it came when Lee McCulloch, who had been cautioned earlier, acquired another yellow card for a somewhat soft foul on McGeady. Off he went, on came members of the backroom staff on both sides to break up a mêlée.

Honour was eventually satisfied, the imbroglio calmed down and Celtic were able to celebrate their first triumph over Rangers in 15 months. Enough to earn Lennon the job? That's another tale for another time.


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