Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's dramatic injury-time winner at Celtic Park last night breathed fresh life into the SPL title race just as it seemed inevitable that 10-man Rangers were leaving with a point and with the silverware virtually guaranteed. The Dutchman can rarely have scored a more valuable goal, or one in a more acrimonious atmosphere. Not only did the match finish with scuffles between players but the Rangers doctor had been hit by a coin earlier when treating goalkeeper Alan McGregor.
Rangers remain one point clear with two games in hand but Celtic must now feel they have a prayer, however small, not least because they must host Rangers again in ten days time.
This was the first Old Firm match in the SPL to be played in the evening for eight years but it was more than the floodlights that gave this a frenzied feel.
The intensity of the occasion was obvious in the first minute when Barry Robson clattered into Rangers' Christian Dailly and the latter reacted furiously. The first chance came shortly afterwards and fell to Celtic when Aiden McGeady crossed and the ball was shielded away.
Rangers, playing with a loan striker in the form of Jean-Claude Darcheville broke twice shortly afterwards. First Darcheville fell in possession on the right wing and then moments later he was dispossessed in the area by Paul Hartley.
Shunsuke Nakamura gave a glimpse of his ability with a delightful cutting ball to Vennegoor of Hesselink. McGregor dived at the Dutchman's feet to thwart him.
Celtic went ahead after 20 minutes through a few moments of brilliance by Nakamura. He collected the ball 30 yards out, took a few paces forward and unleashed a screamer of a left-foot drive which gave the hosts the half-time advantage.
Nacho Novo came on for Rangers as a half-time substitute, replacing Kirk Broadfoot, whose right-back berth was filled by Steven Whittaker. It took all of 10 minutes for Novo's introduction to pay dividends. Whittaker's pass set him free into the right edge of Celtic's area and the Spaniard's low diagonal shot gave the visitors parity.
The game took some extraordinary twists, and not just those of umpteen players' legs as tempers boiled over. With 20 minutes left Nakamura's shot had beaten McGregor and Carlos Cuellar saved on the line with his hands. That meant a red card and a penalty. Scott McDonald took it. McGregor, limping due to a leg injury, saved. Within 10 minutes McGregor had to be substituted as Celtic pressed for a winner, which Vennegoor of Hesselink supplied in a tumultuous finale.
Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor (Wilson, h-t); Nakamura, Hartley, Robson (Samaras, 74), McGeady; Vennegoor of Hesselink, McDonald. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), McGowan, Sno, Donati, Balde.
Rangers (4-1-4-1): McGregor (Alexander, 77); Broadfoot (Novo, h-t), Cuellar, Weir, Papac; Dailly; Whittaker, Ferguson, Davis, McCulloch; Darcheville (Cousin, 83). Substitutes not used: Boyd, Naismith, Surman, McMillan.
Referee: K Clark (Scotland).