Celtic save the best till last

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The Independent Online
Celtic kept their best for the end, finishing their year-long tenancy of Hampden in style with the most comprehensive win over their arch-rivals for several years.

Goals from Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Rudi Vata, plus an own-goal from Craig Moore tore the heart out of the Rangers' defence, and to add to their misery Billy Thomson, their goalkeeper, was sent off for bringing down Brian McLaughlin.

An uninspired first half gave little clue to the drama which was to unfold in the second period, as both sides struggled in terms of creativity. The breakthrough came about courtesy of the trickery of McLaughlin, who evaded two challenges on the edge of the penalty area before squaring the ball to Van Hooijdonk, who took aim and rifled the ball into the corner of the net.

Ten minutes later, Celtic were gifted a second goal by the unfortunate Moore. The Australian full-back shot into his own net in attempting to clear a cross from Simon Donnelly.

Vata added a third goal with a free-kick which slipped through the hands of Thomson eight minutes from time, and shortly afterwards the Rangers goalkeeper was shown a red card when he took McLaughlin out of the play after the winger had pushed the ball beyond him and looked destined to score.

Rarely over the last few years have Rangers looked so out of touch over 90 minutes, and even Brian Laudrup, who was last night presented with the Scottish football writer's Player of the Year trophy, failed to rise to the occasion.

Tommy Burns, the Celtic manager, said: "I was delighted, particularly for the supporters, because we have put them on an emotional roller-coaster all season, but we proved today that on any given day we are at least as good as Rangers. We just have to do it more often."

Celtic (4-4-2): Bonner; Vata, Boyd, O'Neil, McKinlay; McLaughlin, McStay, Grant, Collins; Van Hooijdonk (O'Donnell, 76), Donnelly (Falconer, 67). Substitute not used: Marshall (gk).

Rangers (4-4-2): Thomson; Moore, Boli, McLaren, Brown (Murray, 26); Cleland, Steven, Ferguson (Mikhailichenko, 73), Durrant; Hateley, Laudrup (Maxwell, gk, 84).

Referee: L W Mottram (Forth).

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