Bellamy's wonder strike inflicts body blow on Rangers' ambition

Rangers 1 - Celtic 2
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The Independent Online

Craig Bellamy atoned yesterday for his profligate Celtic debut nine weeks ago by scoring a sublime goal that helped his team take a huge step towards their fourth Scottish Premier League title in five seasons.

Craig Bellamy atoned yesterday for his profligate Celtic debut nine weeks ago by scoring a sublime goal that helped his team take a huge step towards their fourth Scottish Premier League title in five seasons.

The champions went to Ibrox and inflicted a body blow to Rangers' ambitions of taking the race to the final day as they did in 2003. Alex McLeish's side are now five points behind with only four games left.

Bellamy's composed finish after 33 minutes added to a lead Celtic had taken through Stilian Petrov. Though Steven Thompson responded with a late goal, it was too little.

Bellamy was forced to limp off just minutes into the second half with a hamstring injury, but the damage had been done. What was sweeter for the Wales striker, who is on loan from Newcastle United, was that his goal came from a carbon-copy of an opening which he had missed in his meek Parkhead bow against Rangers in February.

Then he was also faced only by the goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus, after his pace had carried him clear. That shot was fluffed straight into Waterreus's hands, but yesterday Bellamy curled his shot around the Dutchman.

"Craig was eager to make up for the last time," said O'Neill later. "His goal was fantastic and this was a big win for us. We deserved it but there are some difficult games left and we will just keep working hard."

Bellamy might have profited after just a minute when he forced Marvin Andrews and Waterreus into a mistake and it took Sotirios Kyrgiakos to clear Bellamy's shot. Waterreus then made a fine save from a Neil Lennon shot before Celtic broke the deadlock after 21 minutes. Petrov met a cross from Didier Agathe to steer a header past the goalkeeper from 16 yards but the midfielder was hit by a missile from the stands as he celebrated.

The game was over when Bellamy struck 13 minutes later. Alan Thompson won the ball off Dado Prso in his own area and advanced before curling a fine pass into the path of Bellamy, who had got clear of Andrews and then cut inside Kyrgiakos before curling a right-foot shot beyond Waterreus from just inside the box.

Rangers almost forced their way back just before half-time when a header from Andrews hit the bar, but Celtic controlled the second period even with the loss of Bellamy.

His replacement, Craig Beattie, had a chance to kill the game after 67 minutes when he was clear with just Waterreus to beat, but he lobbed his shot over the bar.

Thompson gave Rangers some hope when he struck with a shot from six yards after a free-kick from Barry Ferguson broke to him. However, Rangers could not come up with an equaliser and Ferguson admitted later: "We needed to win this game and have to hope that Celtic slip up now." Alex McLeish was more blunt. "Celtic can only throw it away now," he said.

Goals: Petrov (21) 0-1; Bellamy (34) 0-2; Thompson (88) 1-2.

Rangers (4-4-2): Waterreus; Ross (Buffel, 46), Andrews (Malcolm, 82), Kyrgiakos, Ball; Ricksen, Ferguson, Namouchi, Vignal (Thompson, 75); Prso, Novo. Substitutes not used: McGregor (gk), Rae, Burke, McCormack.

Celtic (4-4-2): Marshall; Agathe, Varga, Baldé, McNamara; Petrov, Lennon, Sutton, Thompson; Bellamy (Beattie, 47; Wallace, 89), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Douglas (gk), Henchoz, Lambert, Maloney, McGeady.

Referee: S Dougal.

Booked: Rangers Novo, Kyrgiakos, Ross; Celtic Hartson, Agathe, Petrov, Bellamy.

Man of the match: Petrov.

Attendance: 49,593.

¿ Rangers face a possible Scottish Football Association investigation because of the missile thrown at the Celtic midfielder Stilian Petrov yesterday. The Bulgaria international was struck by a plastic cup after opening the scoring in the 21st minute at Ibrox. He required medical attention after being struck by the drinks container, which had been thrown from the Copland Road stand, but was able to return to the action.

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