Football: The curse of Goram

Phil Gordon looks at the Celtic manager's problem to counter the enemy
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When Andy Goram produced a breathtaking performance last January which denied Celtic a crucial opportunity to wrest a Premier League monopoly from Rangers' grasp, Tommy Burns hinted at a disappointment he would carry to the grave.

"If anyone gets round to doing my tombstone," the Parkhead manager sighed, "it will have to read: `Andy Goram Broke My Heart.'" The quote was manna from heaven for the tabloids. The chilling truth for Burns, some 10 months later, is that Goram refuses to give up haunting him.

The Scotland goalkeeper didn't quite come back from the dead to spook Burns last Thursday night, but he did make a pretty good impersonation of Lazarus. Out injured for seven games, Goram resurrected himself to prove he remains Celtic's nemesis. His penalty save from Pierre van Hooijdonk with five minutes remaining not only preserved Rangers' lead but it sent them back to the top of the table and, in a double-edged blow, left their Glasgow rivals with the nagging doubt that they might not stop the champions making it nine titles in a row.

The Old Firm sense of order has been restored. For Celtic the sense of disappointment was immeasurable. The feeling lurks that they might not have a better chance of staking their own claim. At least, not until a quality midfielder is brought to the club. Shorn of John Collins, who left last June to join Monaco on freedom of contract, and long-term wounded Paul McStay and Phil O'Donnell, Celtic were short of craft in a key area in the Old Firm match.

McStay, the club captain, is uncertain to regain his sublime passing skills while O'Donnell has spent most of his Parkhead career on the treatment table since his pounds 1.75m move from Motherwell in 1994.

Burns, a midfielder of repute during his 14 years playing service at Celtic, gets the picture just likes everyone else. He has targeted the Swedish international Jonas Thern, at present disaffected with Roma, as a possible solution. "Everyone saw how superb Thern was against Scotland last week," reflected Burns the day after the Rangers disappointment. "If he was available we would talk to his agent and then talk to his club."

Burns refuses to believe the championship initiative has been handed to Rangers or that success is still a pipedream, despite the statistic of no wins in their last eight Old Firm matches.

"When I was a player, Rangers went 10 years without ever winning at Parkhead. I would be a lot more worried if this run was 10 years instead of eight games spread over a season and a half."

By this time next weekend, Celtic could return to the leadership anyway. They play Dunfermline while Rangers contest the Coca-Cola Cup final with Hearts.