Football: New regime shows Celtic the light: James Traynor reports on a second chance for a club saved from the brink

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The Independent Online
WITH the discredited regime in ruins and fresh hope on the horizon, Celtic returned to football yesterday. It was like a new beginning, as though the players and the supporters had emerged from darkness.

The reasons for their optimism were cheered and applauded into their seats at St Johnstone's McDiarmid Park. The new club directors, Fergus McCann and Dominic Keene, and Brian Dempsey, the driving force behind the downfall of a board which had been getting it so badly wrong, were hailed as saviours. These men and their advisers had struggled for more than three years to overthrow the directors, under whose rule Celtic had been failing and facing bankruptcy.

Their moment will come when Celtic play at home to Dundee next Saturday, but yesterday was a savoury appetiser. The result was secondary: the 5,500 supporters who obtained tickets for the match were elated by the knowledge that at last their club had been freed from the control of three families, the Whites, Kellys, and Grants. They took over half of St Johnstone's home and had a ball.

It helped, of course, that Celtic won - their second successive league victory, which suggests that things are definitely looking up - plunging St Johnstone deeper into the relegation quicksands, but Celtic's fans did not need Paul Byrne's goal to brighten their day. The young Irishman struck after 70 seconds and Saints were unable to recover.

Problems still lie ahead and Celtic's new directors can be sure that Rangers, who are attempting to win the Scottish Premier Division championship for a sixth successive time, will not make it easy for the Parkhead side to catch up.

Yesterday the Ibrox team managed to beat their fellow championship contenders Motherwell 2-1, with the winner being scored from the penalty spot in the final minute by the remarkable Mark Hateley. Motherwell had taken the lead through Paul Lambert, but Gordon Durie equalised courtesy of a deflection as the ball passed through a crowded penalty area.

In the meantime, though, Celtic's fans and the new owners are convinced that good times lie ahead and they were entitled to their fun day out yesterday. They were justified in indulging themselves and slapping one another on the back. McCann said he felt proud to be among such a wonderful support, and Dempsey added: 'This is a special moment. All of us have worked hard to achieve change, and it wouldn't have occurred without the backing of these supporters.'

In stark contrast to previous months, the players, who had been wearing the look of men without hope, also had an obvious spring in their step. 'With people like Brian Dempsey around it can only be good for the club and what we all need now is some honesty and integrity,' Charlie Nicholas said before the game.

Aberdeen, who had been hoping to close in on Rangers at the top of the Premier Division, were beaten at home by Hearts. Scott Leitch scored the only goal of the game at Pittodrie.