Celtic's compensation

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The Independent Online
SIX years without a trophy finally came to an end for Celtic yesterday, when they did what they had so humiliatingly failed to do in the Coca- Cola Cup final earlier in the season. They beat off the challenge of lowlier opposition with a display of largely grim-faced football that was entirely understandable given the circumstances. Their total number of victories in the Scottish Cup thus rises to 30, more than any other club.

Defeat by Raith Rovers six months ago - one of the great upsets in Scottish football history - was all too fresh in the memory for Celtic to feel they could simply go out and brush aside the challenge of Airdrieonians, another First Division side blessed with unquenchable spirit and no fear of failure.

After scoring what turned out to be the winning goal in only the ninth minute, Celtic did no more than they had to to secure a victory which was in many ways undistinguished, but whose impact on the club psychologically cannot be measured.

This was the platform they wanted from which to relaunch a long-overdue challenge to the might of Rangers. With a place in next season's European Cup-Winners' Cup now secure, the new Parkhead (still under construction) promising to be one of the finest stadiums in Britain and the money around to strengthen the team - provided Tommy Burns, the manager, and his chairman, Fergus McCann, can agree on how to spend it - the future looks brighter than it has for years.

With Celtic widening their horizons it was perhaps appropriate that a Dutchman, Pierre van Hooijdonk, was their hero, his beautifully taken header from Tosh McKinlay's cross from the left suggesting that Celtic might indeed turn the occasion into something fit to enter the annals of glorious Cup victories. Soon after the goal, there was a marvellous moment when Peter Grant, the man of the match, sent in Simon Donnelly with a 50-yard pass, only for the referee to blow for a foul when he should have played advantage, but from then on Celtic's conservatism prevented that.

The feeling was that if Airdrie were to stand any chance they had to keep Celtic at bay early on, but the fact that they failed to was misleading. They had just as much of the ball and, until they ran out of an admittedly limited supply of ideas in the second half, created the better chances. Alan Lawrence forced an excellent save out of Pat Bonner; their captain, Jimmy Sandison, shot dangerously from 30 yards; and, after 39 minutes, the men from Lanarkshire got an unexpected boost - though the game was the poorer for it - when van Hooijdonk limped off with a hamstring injury, his job done.

By the time the hour mark had been reached, the match had gone a bit flat, with Celtic hanging on to what they had and having the possession to do it reasonably comfortably, and Airdrie not good enough to do much about it other than increase the intensity of their tackling. There were frequent stoppages for injuries and very few chances, for all Airdrie's rugged effort to force a way through in the closing stages. But this was one piece of history Celtic were not going to let repeat itself.

Celtic: Bonner; Vata, McKinlay, McNally, Boyd; Grant, McStay, McLaughlin, Collins; Van Hooijdonk (Falconer, 39), Donnelly (O'Donnell, 70). Sub not used: Marshall (gk).

Airdrieonians: Martin; Stewart, Sandison, Hay (McIntyre, 82), Jack; Boyle, Black, A Smith; Harvey (T Smith, 51), Cooper, Lawrence. Sub not used: McCulloch (gk).

Referee: L Mottram (Forth).