Celtic in debt to Hughes

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The Independent Online

Rangers 1 Celtic 1

A late goal for Celtic by John Hughes three minutes before the end ensured the destiny of the Premier Division championship remains in the melting pot, after the final Old Firm game of the season failed to produce a clear- cut decision.

Rangers will now carry their three-point lead into the last seven games, confident that, if their closest rivals were unable to dent their advantage, there are few sides in the league capable of doing so.

Rangers had looked to be heading for maximum points thanks to an Alan McLaren header in the 41st minute but, with the stadium clock showing 87 minutes, a Peter Grant free-kick found Hughes, whose header stole in at the far post, leaving Andy Goram a spectator. It was the most important goal Hughes can expect to score in his career because, for Celtic, defeat on the day was unimaginable.

A repeat of the 3-3 epic the sides produced on Celtic's last visit to Ibrox was too much to expect with so much at stake, but there was enough going on in a tense 90 minutes to retain interest.

Celtic, who were reduced to 10 men with 13 minutes to go following the departure of Jackie McNamara for a second yellow card, nevertheless dominated the second period with their free-flowing short passing game, while Rangers preferred to dig in and look to a sturdy defensive performance.

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, declared his disappointment in the way the game ended for his side, saying: "The disappointment was in dropping a couple of points so late in the game and, although I was also disappointed that we didn't put them under more pressure, I felt we made the two best chances of the second half."

With Paul Gascoigne in splendid form in front of Terry Venables, the England manager, Rangers can lay claim to the best of the first half. Gascoigne revelled in the occasion. A big-game player, he likes nothing better than the chance of a platform to display his skills, and his flicks and touches made him stand out. However, he still demonstrated at times a short temper, pounding the turf in frustration when a decision failed to go his way and there were times when it seemed as if he could barely control himself. There are few better in terms of vision and accuracy yet Venables will be concerned about his short fuse and also the fact that he tired visibly in the final quarter.

It was Gascoigne, of course, who supplied the ammunition for Rangers to take the lead. His free-kick from the left was flicked on by McLaren, with the ball nestling in the Celtic goal at the far post.

In Brian Laudrup, Gascoigne had an able deputy, the two providing the danger on most occasions. Gordon Durie saw his diving header in the 71st minute touched on to a post by Gordon Marshall and, with two minutes remaining, Stuart McCall sent in a header from a corner which hit the bar. In the final seconds a Gascoigne dummy allowed McCoist a sight of goal but the Rangers striker blazed over the bar.

Those were the Rangers chances. Celtic almost scored in the 82nd minute when two attempts by Phil O'Donnell were blocked, the second on the line by Durie. McNamara had been sent off in the 77th minute following a foul on Charlie Miller, but with three minutes remaining Hughes capped a good performance from Celtic with their equaliser.

The result means Celtic now require other clubs to relieve Rangers of points if they are to steal ahead of their rivals before the season's end.

Race for the title

P W D L F A Pts

Rangers 29 21 6 2 64 17 69

Celtic 29 19 9 1 54 20 66

Aberdeen 29 13 5 11 43 32 44


Rangers: 23 March: Falkirk (h). 30 March: Raith Rovers (a). 10 April: Hearts (a). 13 April: Partick Thistle (h). 20 April: Motherwell (a). 27 April: Aberdeen (h). 4 May: Kilmarnock (a).

Celtic: 23 March: Motherwell (a). April 1: Aberdeen (h). 10 April: Kilmarnock (h). 13 April: Hibernian (a). 20 April: Falkirk (h). 27 April: Partick Thistle (a). 4 May: Raith Rovers (h).

Goals: McLaren (41) 1-0; Hughes (87) 1-1.

Rangers (3-5-2): Goram; Petric, McLaren, Brown; Moore (Durie, 34), McCall, Gascoigne, Miller, Cleland; McCoist, Laudrup. Substitutes not used: Andersen, Scott (gk).

Celtic (4-4-2): Marshall; McNamara, Boyd, Hughes, McKinlay; O'Donnell, McStay, Grant, Collins (McLaughlin, h-t); Van Hooijdonk, Thom (Wieghorst, 78). Substitute not used: Donnelly.

Referee: J McCluskey (Stewarton).

Bookings: Rangers Gascoigne; Celtic McNamara. Sending-off: McNamara.

Man of the match: Gascoigne. Attendance: 47,312.