Football: Mitchell sets up Celtic for title

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The Independent Online
Rangers 0

Kilmarnock 1

Mitchell 90

Attendance: 50,116

ALLY MITCHELL sent an invitation across Glasgow yesterday; it was asking Celtic to a celebration party. The Kilmarnock substitute stunned Rangers in the last minute at Ibrox with a goal that meant Celtic will lift the League title if they win away to Dunfermline today.

Rangers, champions nine times in a row, knew before the kick-off that they were struggling to cap Walter Smith's final season as manager by making it 10, but they were left deflated and the massed ranks of their supporters in the 50,000-crowd were silenced when Mitchell arrived late at the far post to drive the ball home from a cross by John Hendry.

Rangers' first home league defeat was a bitter pill for Smith to swallow. "We were not really in the title race six or seven weeks ago then hauled ourselves back into contention," Smith said.

"It is disappointing not to maintain our challenge until the final hurdle. We have been inconsistent, losing to Aberdeen, then beating Hearts last week and slipping up today."

Rangers welcomed back their Italian defenders Lorenzo Amoruso and Sergio Porrini after a one-match suspension and a hamstring problem.

However, their first-choice goalkeeper, Andy Goram, and their Swedish midfielder, Jonas Thern, were both ruled out because of hamstring injuries.

Kilmarnock, chasing a Uefa Cup place, were without their Scotland B striker Paul Wright, who has struggling to shake off a back injury.

Rangers pushed forward in numbers from the start and could have gone ahead after only three minutes when Gordon Durie floated in a cross after being released by Jorg Albertz. The goalkeeper Gordon Marshall came out to collect but the ball was headed nervously away by defender Jim Lauchlan. Only two minutes later Albertz delivered a free-kick from the left that was headed wide by Richard Gough. Then the Dane Brian Laudrup dragged a shot wide and Albertz released Durie the Scotland striker's first touch let him down and the chance was lost.

Frustration and anxiety began to take a grip on Rangers and Kilmarnock settled to their task of pursuing fourth place in the table, their highest finish. The visitors almost scored in the 35th minute when Jerome Vareille thumped in a shot from an acute angle, the stand-in goalkeeper Antti Niemi blocked it, but Mark Reilly hit the rebound wide. Rangers had another escape when Gus McPherson was released by Vareille in the 61st minute but scuffed his shot.

There was to be no ultimate reprieve, though, and now Rangers can only sit and watch whether Celtic take up that invitation. If they do, Mitchell should be the guest of honour.