Football: Dominant Celtic turn on the style

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The Independent Online
Rangers 0

Celtic 2

Collins 45, McStay 47

Attendance: 45,466

EMBARRASSED in Europe and now humbled by Celtic, the club Rangers thought they had left behind on their way to greater things. Only a few weeks into a new season and it looks as though the Ibrox club's dreams are crumbling into dust.

Rangers, in fact, have become unfortunate victims of their own success, with their supporters demanding more than the players can deliver.

Having conquered the domestic scene in recent times, Rangers inevitably had to turn their attention to an assault on the elite of Europe and millions of pounds have been spent in an attempt to build a side capable of competing with the best. Two seasons ago, when they almost reached the European Cup final, it seemed they were heading in the right direction, but the euphoria of those days disguised the truth.

Even then Rangers were in need of further modifications. Some players had peaked and although Rangers' manager Walter Smith confronted the fact, he found it difficult to find the right replacements.

With his chairman David Murray's blessing, almost pounds 10m has been spent over the past 14 months - on Duncan Ferguson, Brian Laudrup, and Basile Boli - but still the team malfunctions. And Europe seems beyond their reach.

AEK Athens humiliated Rangers over two legs, the second of which was played at Ibrox on Wednesday night, and Smith had to bring his players back from that despair to face Celtic. A win in the first Old Firm match of the season would have acted as a balm to soothe the pain of losing in Europe. It would also have appeased the tribal urges of the Rangers fans, who made up the bulk of the 45,446 crowd. Europe is the aim, but ancient prejudices remain strong. When Celtic are in the vicinity the Milans of this world can all wait.

The passion swilling around the ground was potent, but Smith's players could not respond, and it all became too much for many of their fans. Some left long before the end and those who stood their ground fell silent until Smith decided to take off Ian Durrant and send on Duncan Ferguson.

Howls of disapproval greeted the change and a fan even ran to the directors' box, where he shouted at Murray. In the past the chairman has been approached only to be congratulated, but frustration now drives this club's vast army of supporters, who are finding it difficult to cope with failure.

Having been fed on a rich diet of success they have become blase about domestic success and another Premier Division championship, even though it would be Rangers' seventh in succession, will not satisfy them. Indeed, Smith's team could win the title and one of the cups but still be regarded as failures in the eyes of many of their fans.

It would be a ridiculous scenario, but it would be the price of Rangers' dominance, which may be coming to an end as Celtic are again looking as though they are believers.

They beat Rangers comfortably, and when John Collins - who has now scored in five of the last six Old Firm matches - directed a marvellously struck free-kick into the net seconds from the interval Celtic knew they would win.

The Celtic captain, Paul McStay, scored the second goal three minutes into the second half and Rangers were left chasing shadows while trying to cope with the derision of their own fans.

This was Burns' first Old Firm match as manager of the club whose midfield he influenced greatly as a player, and it seems that level of contribution will be continued in his new role. Celtic, too, need an infusion of fresh talent, but at least the current squad are willing to give their all and help Celtic to get among the trophies again.

They have not collected a prize for five seasons, but on yesterday's evidence they look ready to rise again.

James Traynor writes for the Herald, Glasgow.

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