John Hartson plunged a knife into Rangers' ambitions yet again as he scored his seventh Old Firm goal for Celtic to send them tumbling out of the Scottish Cup at Parkhead yesterday.
The Welsh striker is determined to make Rangers pay for abandoning a move to sign him five years ago after the Ibrox club had doubts about the condition of one of his knees. Yet Hartson showed rude health as he struck the winner 13 minutes from the end of a taut third-round encounter between the holders and their eternal rivals. It was the perfect way to reward Martin O'Neill, the Celtic manager, who has just given him a new contract until 2007.
Earlier, his partner up front, Chris Sutton, had recorded his own seventh derby goal before Fernando Ricksen equalised for Rangers just after the interval. "It would have been hard to replace someone of John's calibre if he had left," reflected Sutton later. "He is a natural goalscorer, just like Henrik Larsson."
Sutton was itching to make his own mark on this fixture after being sent off in the last one - Celtic's League defeat at Ibrox in November - and he and Hartson bullied Marvin Andrews and Zurab Khizanishvili all day.
The Rangers defensive pair looked lost in the wake of Jean-Alain Boumsong's £8m move to Newcastle and goalkeeper Stefan Klos twice denied Hartson from giving the home side an early lead.
However, the deadlock was broken in the 37th minute when Sutton got in front of Andrews to run on to a Hartson flick and hook a right foot shot past Klos from 12 yards.
Ricksen restored parity when Alan Hutton's cross caught the Celtic defence ball-watching and the Dutch midfielder powered a header beyond goalkeeper Rab Douglas.
O'Neill's side responded with vigour. Gregory Vignal hooked the ball off the line after Klos's mispunch threatened to send it into Rangers' net and Sutton crashed a header against the post from Alan Thompson's corner.
Just when Rangers were starting to sense they had earned a replay, Hartson struck. Didier Agathe's angled ball into the box was helped on by Sutton and Hartson crept in behind Andrews to drill his shot past Klos.
Rangers' new £2.3m signing from Feyenoord, Thomas Buffel, ought to have equalised in injury time, but lobbed the ball over the bar with just Douglas to beat. "That was a heart-stopping moment," admitted O'Neill, " but I think we deserved to go through with the number of chances we made."
Goals: Sutton (37) 1-0; Ricksen (47) 1-1; Hartson (77) 2-1.
Celtic (4-4-2): Douglas; Agathe, Balde, Varga, Laursen; Petrov, McNamara, Thompson, McGeady (Camara, 84); Hartson, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Juninho, Lambert, Wallace.
Rangers (4-3-1-2): Klos; Hutton, Andrews, Khizanishvili, Vignal; Ricksen, A Rae, Djordjic (Buffel, 67); Namouchi (Thompson, 81); Novo, Prso. Substitutes not used: McGregor (gk), Malcolm, Ball.
Referee: H Dallas.
Booked: Celtic: McNamara, Hartson. Rangers: Namouchi, Ricksen.
Man of the match: McNamara.
Attendance: 58,622.Reuse content