Agathe effort earns O'Neill's gratitude

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The Independent Online

Martin O'Neill, the Celtic manager, believes the return of Didier Agathe was partial compensation for the pain of Tuesday night's defeat in the Old Firm derby. The winger was outstanding in his side's 2-1 defeat by Rangers in extra time during the semi-final of the CIS Insurance Cup. It was Agathe's first game since suffering a leg injury against Hearts on 17 November.

At Hampden Park on Wednesday, the former Hibernian man carried on where he had left off, getting the better of Arthur Numan on the right wing. O'Neill said: "Didier Agathe epitomised what this football club has been about.

"He played an hour the day before the game and said on the morning he was feeling fine. I said 'give us a half' and he proceeded to play the whole game. He was just out on his feet most of the extra time. But he was willing to stay on the pitch and never ever complained. I thought he was magnificent."

O'Neill added: "Chris Sutton coming on was a big plus so there were two big pluses but there were more than just two. We were great."

The result meant Celtic's dreams of back-to-back trebles were ended and, although they look certain to retain the title at least Rangers can claim that they are now the only club in Scotland capable of completing the treble this season.

The CIS Insurance Cup is the least prestigious of Scotland's three major trophies but O'Neill insisted the defeat hurt. He said: "On the night we were desperately unlucky. But you know my feelings about that – ifs, buts and maybes; keep them out of the equation. We have plenty more to play for. I'm not dismissing it either. I was so disappointed to be beaten.

"So were the players and, naturally, our supporters but I don't think I have one complaint about their effort."

Rangers' victory ended the five-game Old Firm losing run that Alex McLeish had inherited from Dick Advocaat. Celtic had not won six on the trot since 1972 when Jock Stein was in charge and McLeish had gone into his first Glasgow derby in the knowledge that no new Ibrox manager had lost his debut since John Greig in 1978.

McLeish said: "There are a lot of exterior pressures that I can't do anything about, the media hype. I tried to keep away from those pressures and I felt reasonably calm before and during the game, most of the time."

The win came at a cost, with Craig Moore taken off with a leg injury and Ronald de Boer concussed by Bobo Balde. Lorenzo Amoruso had also been hurt near the end of the 90 minutes but recovered to complete the extra half-hour.

At that point McLeish had already sent on Tony Vidmar, the only defender on the bench, to replace Moore, so a reshuffle featuring Stephen Hughes was expected until the Italian made it clear he would play on.

McLeish said: "We were preparing for big Lorenzo to come off, although I must say it was fantastic to see him walking back on the pitch again. Craig has done a hamstring so we paid a price. Ronald took a head knock and was dizzy at half-time."

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