Celtic cannot break Rangers' stranglehold

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Celtic 0 Rangers 0

The width of the woodwork and Andy Goram's foot ensured there would be no clear-cut decision between the two sides contesting the Scottish championship, leaving the title race unchanged. Rangers, who have visited Celtic Park three times this season without conceding a goal, retain an eight-point lead over their rivals, with Celtic having played two games less.

Although the campaign has just entered its second half, it becomes increasingly possible that the destination of the title will be decided by the result of the Old Firm games. The last chance Celtic will have of clawing back points in a head-to-head comes on 17 March.

On the assumption that these two will contest the title - and no other club is remotely close to them - this was an acceptable result for Rangers, who restricted Celtic to a handful of chances in a free-flowing game which never reached the heights of the 3-3 draw in November.

Goram's foot kept Celtic out in the 16th minute, the goalkeeper moving quickly to deflect to safety a shot from Andreas Thom, who had exposed a gap in the Rangers defence, and in the second half Goram took two attempts, the first an instinctive save to clear Thom's powerful header from six yards.

Throughout the match, however, Goram was well served by his defence which never allowed Celtic the penetration they sought through the promptings of Paul McStay and Phil O'Donnell in midfield and Tosh McKinlay on the flanks. In doing so, Rangers displayed the qualities which have enabled them to dominate Scottish football for so long - they make it very difficult for other teams to create chances.

This match was even more highly charged than is usual for these occasions, as Celtic are closer to their rivals than at any time over the last seven years in which Rangers have had a stranglehold on the title. Both sides were aware that a Celtic victory would allow them to move to the top of the league if they were to win their two outstanding matches, and the determination on the field more than matched that in the stands.

Paul Gascoigne produced some customary flicks and might have won the game in the closing stages with a free-kick which cannoned off the bar, while Brian Laudrup, Rangers' Danish striker, was always a threat, even although he had one of his quieter games.

In the end, the stalemate might convince Celtic that they still are one or two players short of being able to match the overall strength of Rangers. It is eight years since Celtic last won the New Year fixture, coincidentally the last time they won the league, and it seems that only when they come out on top against Rangers over a season will they once again win the championship.

Celtic (4-4-2): Marshall; McNamara, Boyd, MacKay, McKinlay; Donnelly (McLaughlin, 75), McStay, O'Donnell, Collins; Van Hooijdonk, Thom (Walker, 84). Substitute not used: Wieghorst.

Rangers (3-4-3): Goram; Petric, Gough, McLaren; Ferguson, Gascoigne, Miller, Robertson; Durie, Salenko (Cleland, 67), Laudrup. Substitutes not used: Durrant, McCoist.

Referee: L W Mottram (Forth).

Last night's results, page 25