Rangers ruin Bellamy's Old Firm debut

Celtic 0 Rangers 2
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The Independent Football

It took a refugee from the English Premiership to play a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Scottish Premier League title race yesterday, but it was not Craig Bellamy.

It took a refugee from the English Premiership to play a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Scottish Premier League title race yesterday, but it was not Craig Bellamy.

The on-loan striker from Newcastle United lost on his debut for Celtic and had to watch as the Liverpool cast-off Gregory Vignal ended Rangers' five-year wait for a victory at Parkhead. The Frenchman, on loan from Anfield, broke the deadlock with a 71st-minute goal that was gifted by the Celtic goalkeeper Robert Douglas, and then Nacho Novo struck 10 minutes later as the champions tried to claw their way back.

Rangers have now taken a three-point lead at the top of the table, though Celtic have a game in hand. However, Alex McLeish's side cleared a mental barrier yesterday by inflicting the first defeat in an Old Firm game on their rivals' patch since Martin O'Neill came to Glasgow five years ago.

Worse still, for the Celtic manager, was the sight of Bellamy squandering a golden chance when he was put clear after just 15 minutes, only to fail to beat the goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus with a tame shot.

"He might have taken it round the goalkeeper," O'Neill observed. It might have been better if he'd had a couple of games under his belt. This is a hard game to come into and make your debut.

O'Neill added: "We are disappointed. I have to credit Rangers. They played well in the second half and we did not. It looks as if this title is going down to the wire as it did in 2003."

McLeish was jubilant after at last laying his Parkhead hoodoo to rest. "It's great to finally get a win here," the Rangers manager said. "It's in our own hands now. It would be great if the title was over tomorrow but we we know it's still a big task for us."

Bellamy's miss apart, McLeish had reason to be grateful to Waterreus, who arrived three weeks ago when Stefan Klos tore his cruciate ligament. Yesterday, the experienced Dutch goalkeeper thwarted not only Bellamy, but also John Hartson, diving at the striker's feet after 25 minutes.

Celtic were to rue those misses. Rangers were far more vibrant after the interval and Dado Prso came close to breaking the deadlock with a fierce shot that Douglas kept out. Waterreus then denied Hartson again in the 62nd minute, after the Welshman had gathered Alan Thompson's cross and spun to fire a venomous shot that the goalkeeper beat out.

The reward came nine minutes later. The ball fell to Vignal and his speculative volley from 25 yards bounced in front of Douglas and squirmed through the goalkeeper's hands.

Celtic tried to summon an equaliser, but were punished when Fernando Ricksen's long ball went over Ulrik Laursen's head. Novo appeared to trip the defender, who fell, but no foul was given and the Spaniard lobbed Douglas as Rangers enjoyed a lusty celebration in front of their 7,000 fans.

After the game, Celtic said they would track down the supporter responsible for hitting Ricksen with an object. The Dutchman had to have a stitch in a wound above his eye after being caught with what is believed to be a cigarette lighter. The culprit faces being banned from Celtic Park for life - a supporter was giventhe same punishment for injuring the referee, Hugh Dallas, in a 1999 Old Firm game. Celtic were subsequently fined by the Scottish Football Association and will be under pressure to act in a similar manner following this incident.

Goals: Vignal (71) 0-1, Nacho (82) 0-2.

Celtic (4-4-2): Douglas; McNamara (McGeady, 76), Varga, Baldé, Laursen; Petrov, Lennon, Sutton, Thompson; Hartson, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Marshall, Henchoz, Juninho, Lambert, Maloney, Wallace.

Rangers (4-3-1-2): Waterreus; Hutton, Andrews, Kyrgiakos, Ball (Rae, 73); Ricksen, Ferguson, Vignal; Buffel; Novo, Prso. Substitutes not used: McGregor, Namouchi, Burke, Malcolm, Thompson, Lovenkrands.

Referee: M McCurry.

Booked: Celtic: Baldé; Rangers: Hutton, Andrews.

Man of the match: Vignal.

Attendance: 59,014.