Celtic stunned by Andersen's fairy-tale finish

Football: Rangers 3 Celtic 1
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Rangers continue to reign supreme in Scotland. Even without Brian Laudrup and Richard Gough, two of their more influential players, they continued their recent run of success over Celtic to put themselves 14 points clear at the top of the league last night.

The target for the Ibrox club is Celtic's record of nine titles and the celebrations among the Rangers supporters at the end suggested that they at least are convinced the title is virtually assured for the south side of Glasgow.

Those supporters also rose to Erik Bo Andersen, the Danish striker who has never been a favourite among the fans, at times even among the management. However, a double strike inside the last seven minutes went a long way towards endearing him to the faithful. His two goals, both low drives from close range, tore the heart out of Celtic, who had been on top for much of the second half.

Rangers' domination in this fixture now stretches back over nine games. Their manager, Walter Smith, later admitted that his side had achieved victory against the odds. "We had a lot of problems because of the number of players who are suffering from a flu bug and I felt the second half was going to cause us problems," he said. "I am very pleased that the players managed to rally round because, by the time they equalised, Celtic looked the more likely side to go on and win the game."

Celtic have two games in hand over their rivals, but such is the gap between the sides it would take a monumental collapse by Rangers if they were to be caught. The reality is that only the respective managers will refuse to concede that the title race is anything other than a formality.

Should anyone have doubts about that, they need only consider the fact that Rangers will strengthen their squad in the immediate future. Before the game, they paraded Sebastian Rozental, the Chilean striker for whom a work permit has now been obtained. He is expected to make his debut later this month.

The home side had the best of a scrappy first half, heartened by an early goal by Jorg Albertz, their German midfielder. The man known as "The Hammer" lived up to his nickname by sending a ferocious free-kick past the Celtic wall into the bottom corner of the Celtic net.

In the second half the game edged in Celtic's direction as they seized the initiative, with Pierre van Hooijdonk adding to their threat after coming off the bench. The Dutch striker made an immediate impact in unsettling the Rangers defence, his header from a Paolo Di Canio cross producing a magnificent flying save by Andy Goram.

Goram saved again from a Jorge Cadete header before Celtic equalised. Tom Boyd played the ball in from the left, Cadete and Van Hooijdonk failed to control adequately but the ball was rammed home by Di Canio.

It seemed at that stage that Celtic, with the upper hand, were the most likely side to go on and win, but Rangers, as they have done so often against their rivals, caught them with late sucker punches. With seven minutes remaining, Albertz fed Andersen and his low shot put Rangers ahead and six minutes later, while Celtic were chasing an equaliser, the Dane struck again to settle the issue.

Tommy Burns, the Celtic manager, vowed to fight on in the title race, saying: "There are 20 games left for us and we'll go out to win every one of them, but football is a very cruel game. We found that out tonight."

The final word should go to Rangers and to their manager, who said: "It is difficult to make assumptions on the title race, because the games have still to even themselves up, but this is the third time we have beaten Celtic this season."

Rangers (4-5-1): Goram; Petric, McLaren, Bjorklund, Robertson; Cleland, Moore (Andersen, 76), Ferguson, Gascoigne (Miller, 65), Albertz; McCoist (Van Vossen, 76).

Celtic (3-5-2): Kerr; O'Neil, Stubbs (Thom, 82), Boyd; McNamara, Donnelly (Van Hooijdonk, 52), McStay, Hannah, O'Donnell; Cadete, Di Canio. Substitute not used: Wieghorst.

Referee: J McCluskey (Stewarton).