Celtic league title on hold as Rangers spoil the party
Sunday 25 March 2012
Celtic's Clydesdale Bank Premier League title win is on hold for another week after an unexpected defeat by ailing Rangers at Ibrox which left the Hoops down to nine men and the home side with 10.
The Parkhead side travelled across the city firm favourites to get the victory which would clinch the championship but they found their administration-hit Old Firm rivals in defiant mood.
Sone Aluko scored a marvellous solo goal in the 11th minute before Hoops defender Cha Du-ri was sent off by referee Calum Murray for denying Lee Wallace a clear goalscoring opportunity at the edge of the Hoops box.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon failed to take his place in the dugout at the start of the second-half, with the suggestion that he had been sent to the stand by Murray after waiting for the official to come off at the interval.
The Hoops boss would not have been any happier when midfielder Victor Wanyama was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Steven Whittaker before substitute Andy Little scored with his first touch of the ball after coming on for Aluko with Wallace grabbing a third.
Just when it looked like being a comfortable home win, there was more late drama.
Gers defender Carlos Bocanegra chopped down Celtic striker Georgios Samaras in the box with three minutes remaining and was promptly sent off with skipper Scott Brown scoring from the spot.
And when Hoops defender Thomas Rogne headed in number two in injury time there was some panic among the home fans until the final whistle sounded to end an exhausting and dramatic afternoon.
It was a day of delight for the Govan club who are looking for new owners while fighting for their very existence and there were few who would have predicted the score which prevented Celtic winning the title at Ibrox for the third time in history.
Ally McCoist's selection showed five changes and plenty of tinkering to the team that lost 2-1 at Tannadice last week.
In what was effectively a new three-man back-line, centre-back duo Bocanegra and Dorin Goian returned from suspension, as expected, with left-back Sasa Papac reinstated after recovering from a knock.
Steven Whittaker returned to the midfield following a groin injury which had kept him out all year while Aluko was back in as support to Lee McCulloch, who had been moved from defence to spearhead the Ibrox attack.
Lennon made three changes to the side which lost the Scottish Communities League Cup final to Kilmarnock at Hampden last week.
In came wide-man Samaras, midfielder Ki Sung-yueng and right-back Cha. Winger James Forrest failed to recover from an ankle knock, while defender Kelvin Wilson and Gary Hooper, who spent all week trying to shrug off a dead leg, started on the bench.
The 7,500 travelling fans were in party mood, providing a raucous soundtrack to the game which was ramped up by the Light Blues supporters when Aluko opened the scoring with a touch of class not often seen in an Old Firm game.
The former Aberdeen player still had a bit to do when he put the ball through the legs of Rogne but he drove at the Celtic box before skipping past Charlie Mulgrew and sliding the ball past Fraser Forster.
The Parkhead men responded immediately and Samaras almost scored an equally good solo goal moments later but Allan McGregor saved his point-blank shot before tipping Anthony Stokes' volley from the rebound over the bar.
The Scotland keeper then stretched to tip a volley from Stokes past his right-hand post moments later and as play raged from end to end, Aluko, Whittaker, Wallace and Ki all had efforts which failed to hit the target.
McGregor then had another save from a Stokes header but the game took a dramatic turn in the 28th minute when the visitors were reduced to 10 men.
As Wallace raced on to an Aluko pass at the edge of the box, Cha tried to grab him and when the Ibrox wide-man went to ground referee Murray opted to point for a free-kick before sending the South Korea international packing.
After McCabe's free-kick cannoned off the wall, Lennon reshuffled, left-back Emilio Izaguirre coming on for Stokes, with Matthews moving to the right and Samaras taking on the role of lone striker.
There was a more measured start to the second-half until Wanyama was red-carded for what looked like a classic two-footed tackle on Whittaker.
The Light Blues were in control and substitute Kyle Lafferty, on for the injured McCabe on the hour mark, turned Izaguirre on the right before racing in on goal but his angled-shot was straight at Forster.
The on-loan keeper then made a double save, first from McCulloch's long-range drive and then from Whittaker, who pounced on the rebound but the second goal was on its way.
In the 72nd minute Little replaced Aluko and moved straight into the box and when Forster saved Wallace's shot from close range, the Northern Irishman slammed the loose ball into the net.
Five minutes later, Wallace made it 3-0 when he raced on to a Steven Davis pass and slid the ball under Forster.
In the 87th minute, Bocanegra chopped down Samaras in the box and was promptly sent off.
Brown scored from the spot, to the sarcastic cheers of the home fans who were less happy when Rogne headed in a Kris Commons free-kick in injury time to ensure a nervy last few minutes.
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