Larsson 3, Brattbakk 72
St Johnstone 0
FORGET devolution and the Scottish parliament, the significant shift of power in Scotland involved the five-mile voyage of a trophy across the city of Glasgow yesterday afternoon. After almost 10 years of Rangers rule, Celtic are champions again. "Good to be back" was the anthem at the final whistle.
It has been a long time and, boy, has it been hard work. But not one of the 50,000 crammed into Parkhead cared much for the quality, either of the football or the chaotic celebrations as the captain, Tommy Boyd, lifted the trophy which has cost the club so much sweat and tears.
The finale was not pretty, no game of such tension could have been, but, having been inspired by an early goal from Henrik Larsson, a second half of almost unbearable tension was broken by the substitute, Harald Brattbakk, 17 minutes from time. An explosion of Celtic pride ignited by a Swede and a Norwegian.
A mixture of joy and undisguised relief greeted the final whistle. Fittingly, perhaps, the decisive turn on the long and winding road was made by Wim Jansen. Whether it will be the Dutchman's last act as Celtic coach was put aside in the moment of delirium. His future is tantalisingly unresolved, though he gave an involuntary clue at a cat-and-mouse victory press conference: "It has been a hard season, but this is a happy end."
The pressure on the Celtic directors to bury their differences of opinion for their European Cup campaign will now be unrelenting. "The club has to decide where it wants to go and how much it is prepared to spend to get there," Jansen said. "If you have enough money you can buy high-quality players and I would have liked to have spent more this season."
Jansen has fashioned a team of resilience and pace, worthy champions before the start of the newly devised Premier League next season. "Our strength this season has been our spirit," he said. "It was the same today. We had outstanding individuals but it was a team performance."
It was not until Jansen replaced the lightweight Simon Donnelly, who had just missed a golden chance, with Brattbakk that the championship was decided. Brattbakk's strike, tucking home a cross from Jackie McNamara, came 13 minutes later.
A measure of the significance of the day was delivered by the Chamber of Commerce, who warned bosses to be lenient with hangovers and absenteeism tomorrow morning. Looking blue or feeling green; the last time Celtic fans remembered such taut nerves was 1986, a 5-0 drubbing of St Mirren combining with an unlikely defeat of Hearts by Dundee to bring the title to Parkhead. Much water has flowed under the bridge in the last decade; Billy McNeill, Liam Brady, Lou Macari and Tommy Burns have all been sacrificed in vain pursuit of Rangers.
Even the usually low-key Jansen was caught up in the hype, terming the game "the cup final of all cup finals" in his programme notes. This from a man who has won the European Cup - with Feyenoord at Celtic's expense - and played in two World Cup finals. Though desperate to maintain the pretence of normality, the Dutchman spirited his side away to a hotel to insulate them from the press.
Celtic's recent twitches were epitomised by the last-gasp equaliser by Dunfermline which deprived them of the title last weekend. There was thumping compensation in the end, but both Rangers and Celtic have vied to forfeit the prize in the past month. And, with St Johnstone aiming for Europe, there would be no sign of holiday brochures.
Celtic's start was gilt-edged. In the absence of two centre-backs, the St Johnstone defence had barely completed their introductions before Larsson struck with a peach of a goal, his 19th of the season. Fed by the industrious Lambert, Larsson cut in from the left, drew three defenders to him before curling an exquisite shot beyond Alan Main. The goal reflected the scorer; all elegance and daintiness.
The goal settled nerves, but exposed once more Celtic's lack of killer instinct. Donnelly, inches away from connecting with a diving header from McNamara's well-flighted cross and then swivelling to drive just wide, could have settled the issue. Larsson, put clear again by Lambert, chipped just over from 20 yards. St Johnstone's defence ranged from the agricultural to the frenetic. It took them 30 minutes to muster a corner in retaliation, a further seven before their first shot. But a header over the bar by George O'Boyle moments before half-time, with Jonathan Gould stranded, was a salutary reminder of the fragility of the title hopes.
Half-time brought the glimpse of a cup, brandished by John Higgins, the new world snooker champion. But the subdued exit of the Celtic side contrasted with the fervour of the prelude, a strange mixture of Oasis and traditional ballad. The season was going to the bitter end. Celtic seemed paralysed by fear, uncertain whether to go for a second goal or hold onto the first, until Brattback ended the agony. The cry of "Championees, championees," would have been heard at Ibrox where 30,000 watched the climax on a giant screen.
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