Celtic, who had reached pole position in the Premier Division, once again came unstuck against their arch rivals last night, leaving them looking up to Rangers - as they have done for most of the previous eight years.
Yet again Andy Goram, the Rangers goalkeeper, reserved some of his best saves for this fixture, including a penalty save five minutes from time. The Scottish international, who has produced heroics against Celtic in recent years, threw himself to his right to push away the spot kick taken by Pierre van Hooijdonk, after Simon Donnelly had been brought down by Richard Gough.
However, had Rangers taken their chances late in a game which Celtic had dominated territorially, the margin of victory might have been greater. Paul Gascoigne also had a penalty saved, and in the closing stages Jorg Albertz was twice denied by desperate saving tackles as the blue shirts broke through an undermanned Celtic rearguard. Peter Van Vossen also missed an open goal.
"We may be three points behind, but we trailed by more than that a few weeks ago," a defiant Tommy Burns, Celtic's manager, said. "I felt we controlled the game and created many chances, but we did not take them. You can't do that against Rangers as they are very good on the counter- attack."
Not for a long time has this fixture meant so much to the already passionate supporters of both clubs. For the first time in 14 months, Celtic approached this game above their rivals in the Premier Division - although their recent record showed they were without a win in the last seven meetings between the two.
This, though, was the night the Celtic fans were convinced their luck would change. Their confidence was bolstered by the return of their foreign legion of strikers. Andreas Thom and Van Hooijdonk, the Dutch international, were included after injury while Jorge Cadete was named among the substitutes.
Rangers, too, welcomed back two big-game players in Andy Goram and Brian Laudrup. Predictably, it was the Dane who deflated Celtic's buoyant mood in the seventh minute. The wound was largely self-inflicted, with Brian O'Neil stumbling and pushing a careless pass towards Laudrup, who raced forward before shooting low past Stewart Kerr, making his Old Firm debut in Celtic's goal.
The nature of these games demands constant attack from the home side, but Celtic became increasingly frustrated as moves regularly broke down around the Rangers penalty area. After a foul by Derek McInnes on Paolo di Canio, Goram produced a spectacular save to push away a powerful Van Hooijdonk free-kick. That was the closest Celtic came before the break. They rarely looked totally comfortable, while Rangers had about them a calm assurance, with Laudrup providing the major threat.
The quick-thinking Dane escaped the attentions of Alan Stubbs once again six minutes from the interval, but on this occasion his shot was saved by a relieved Kerr. Gascoigne, who had been quiet in the first half, started the second by threading the ball to Alex Cleland, who overcame the Celtic offside trap but his final ball to Laudrup was inaccurate. Cleland then swung over a cross to the head of Albertz, who could only head the ball straight at Kerr.
Celtic's response was a firsttime shot by Thom which sailed over the bar. Still Celtic were hampered by a lack of movement among their forward players, prompting Burns to introduce both Cadete, his Portuguese attacker, and Tosh McKinlay in the 62nd minute.
Five minutes later Rangers were awarded a penalty when Laudrup was brought down by Kerr, but the goalkeeper responded by diving to his left to save Gascoigne's softly struck spot-kick.
The referee, Hugh Dallas, who booked five Celts but only one Ranger, then had to send a frustrated Burns the stand, after the Celtic manager had become involved in a heated touchline confrontation with an assistant referee, Eric Martindale. Official censure seems sure to follow.
Celtic (4-4-2): Kerr; McNamara, O'Neil (McKinlay, 62), Stubbs, Boyd; Donnelly, Wieghorst, Grant, Thom (Cadete, 62); Di Canio, Van Hooijdonk. Substitute not used: Marshall (gk).
Rangers (3-5-2): Goram; Petric, Gough, Bjorklund; Cleland, Moore, Gascoigne, McInnes (Van Vossen, 77), Robertson; Albertz, Laudrup. Substitutes not used: McCoist, Snelders (gk).
Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell).