Football: Gough the returning hero

Rangers 1 Gough 29 Celtic 0 Attendance: 50,082 Rangers old boy settles the Old Firm duel as Jansen's first derby ends in disappointment
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The Independent Online
The great safety valve, Jock Stein used to call Old Firm derbies, an outlet for a tribal rivalry better fought on the football field than the streets. The Big Man won a few in his time and his undiminished reputation in Glasgow owes as much to the regular vanquishing of city neighbours as the more celebrated triumphs overseas. There was no release from the inter-city pressure, though, for Celtic and their coach, Wim Jansen, for another nine days at least after Richard Gough extended Rangers' sequence of league derby victories to five with his first goal for the club since returning from his brief sojourn in Kansas City.

We should have known that a host of foreign talent should be just a sideshow to a more parochial theme. Not only did Gough, an old-fashioned home hero, settle the issue, his coolness and command thereafter kept Rangers' noses just in front, hard though Celtic tried to up their tempo. Quite what the Rangers captain was doing on the end of a Brian Laudrup cross after half an hour, only he knows, but the finish was clinical and, for all Celtic's neat football, a welcome confirmation of the blue hegemony.

Paul Gascoigne, too, proved the value of experience in such high-tension games, running the midfield, all elbows and hips. Had he scored from a chance late in the game, it would have rounded off a vintage performance. "It's not every player that can handle the pace of an Old Firm game," Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, said.

In the long term, though, it might not be Rangers who draw the most satisfaction from a breathless victory. Celtic's swift inter-passing and eye for a counter-attack hinted at better things to come and their defence, despite the early loss of Alan Stubbs, became the first in the league this season to stem the flow of goals from Marco Negri. He was restricted to the odd half-chance by Marc Rieper and Enrico Annoni after Stubbs had been stretchered off clutching his cheek. Laudrup proved more effective, giving poor Stephane Mahe such an uncomfortable afternoon the Frenchman was finally sent off for a second bookable offence.

Nerves were always going to be a factor. At a conservative estimate, half of the players on view yesterday were being pitched blindfolded into unexplored emotional terrain. Henrik Larsson had enjoyed a brief and unpleasant preview of the tensions involved after his painful introduction to the Glasgow Kiss, courtesy of Tosh McKinlay's forehead in a training ground bust-up. The Swede fled to his homeland to attend the funeral of his father- in-law; the Scottish international was banished from Celtic Park to await his fate.

Both managers had played down the significance of the first derby of the season, but the thundering reception at Ibrox would have disabused the new boys of the quaint notion that this was just another game. Perhaps it contributed to Celtic's slow start. "For great games like these," Jansen said. "You need all 11 players at their best, disappointingly that wasn't the case." Celtic were particularly vulnerable through Mahe and Regi Blinker down their left.

Larsson, playing a withdrawn role behind Simon Donnelly, the lone striker, was critical to Jansen's tactical plans and had Andy Goram not been near his best, the flop-haired striker could have had a hat-trick. Twice in the first half and once in the second, Goram was forced to parry close- range shots as Larsson consistently found space to break forward in midfield. But Paul Lambert, returning to his homeland clutching a European Cup champions medal with Borussia Dortmund, was given longer to acclimatise.

Two early tackles by the captain Tom Boyd set the tempo for another frenetic afternoon, the first earned him a booking, the second should have seen him sent off and when, shortly after, Negri fell under his challenge in the penalty area, it seemed Celtic's luck was in. But, on the half-hour, Laudrup turned Mahe once more, sped to the byline and his low cross found Gough, of all people, sneaking up from the back. It was Gough's first goal since his return, a timely decade after his first for the club, also in a derby.

"I'm not quite sure what I was doing there," the Rangers captain explained. "My main worry was that it came to my feet. I just tried to get the shot on target." He did better than that, tucking home the winner with his right foot with a flourish worthy of Ally McCoist.

Sergio Porrini missed a simple chance to ease the tension five minutes from time and Jackie McNamara's flicked near-post header took Ibrox close to heart failure. But Gough reigned supreme. Stein's sort of man, whatever colour he was wearing.