Football: Hollow victory for Rangers

End to a decade of dominance
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The Independent Online
Dundee United 1

Zetterlund 65

Rangers 2

Laudrup 31, Albertz pen 53

Attendance: 14,200

IN THE end it was too little, too late. Rangers won the battle at Tannadice but not the war, as their eternal rivals, Celtic, ended a decade of dominance.

The Rangers captain, Richard Gough, was sporting in his praise of their Old Firm counterparts' achievement but admitted missing out on a 10th consecutive title was a bitter pill to swallow.

"I would like to congratulate Celtic. I am lucky to have been involved in 10 championship winning teams at Rangers and I know how difficult it is to win a title. I have to congratulate Wim Jansen and his players because over the 36 games they have proved to be the best team.

"It is hard for us to swallow this but I hope one season will not be allowed to cast a shadow over the achievements of the last decade," Gough said.

Victory on the day was rendered meaningless when Harald Brattbakk struck back in Glasgow to give Celtic the moment they had waited 10 long years for, closing the book on the most enthralling and tense league race, not to mention final day, anyone can remember.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the Rangers fans who had earlier packed the streets around Tannadice looking for tickets were there to praise Walter Smith, not to bury him. Rangers may have been on the brink of failing to capture their first title in a decade, but the thousands of supporters were anything but blue. They believed that fate could yet hand them the title and a record 10 in a row.

The stay-at-homes were not lacking in optimism either. More than 32,000 had packed into Ibrox to watch the game being beamed back live on to giant television screens. The occasion was not short of irony for the Rangers camp. For Smith's last league match as Rangers manager, he returned to the club where he spent 20 years as player and coach. Tannadice was also a place where Rangers had twice won the league title and the deafening noise underlined that their fans clearly expected the place to work its magic again.

However, the vibrancy was punctured after just two minutes when news of Celtic's goal against St Johnstone had filtered through to the hundreds of fans with radios pressed against their ears.

Marco Negri was again left on the bench, fuelling speculation that the moody striker will be heading back to Italy this summer. His replacement, Gordon Durie, found little in the way of service until the 20th minute when Brian Laudrup was brought down on the edge of the box but the resulting free-kick from Jorge Albertz failed to beat the defensive wall.

However, 11 minutes later Laudrup left his marker and scored the goal his club craved. Showing the sublime skill which will grace the English Premiership next season, he beat the keeper Seib Dykstra with a cool right- foot shot. Tannadice, or the blue half of it, exploded with relief and joy.

It took the experience of Gough to make sure that Rangers held on to that lead. Four minutes after the interval, Andy McLaren burst clear on the right wing and delivered a tantalising cut-back from the goal-line. Gough's block made sure the ball did not reach unmarked United striker Gary McSwegan.

United replaced the midfielder Siggi Jonsson with Dave Sinclair in the 50th minute and the new arrival had an unfortunate first touch, conceding a penalty which gave Rangers a two-goal lead.

Rangers' own substitute, Stuart McCall, carved out the danger by playing a neat one-two with Rino Gattuso and bursting into the box to deliver a cross which struck Sinclair's arm.

The referee, Hugh Dallas, judged that Sinclair's hand ball had been intentional and Albertz stepped up to send a left-foot shot past Dykstra. The importance of that goal meant that if St Johnstone could equalise back in Glasgow, the title would belong to Rangers.

Rangers then sought to put their own game out of reach and in the 59th minute Laudrup's teasing run set up Albertz who saw his thunderous left- foot strike saved superbly by Dykstra.

However, in the 65th minute, Lorenzo Amoruso gave away a free-kick when he felled McSwegan. The United captain, Maurice Malpas, took a short ball to Kjell Olofsson on the right wing and the Swedish forward's cross picked out Lars Zetterlund who glanced a header over Antti Niemi and into the net.

However, news of Celtic's second goal at Parkhead sucked the life out of Rangers and hopes of 10 in a row were finally consigned to history.

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