Sublime Sutton leaves Rangers bereft

Celtic 1 Rangers 0
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The Independent Football

They were beginning to talk about a curse at Celtic Park. Ever since they laid a lush new pitch six weeks ago, Martin O'Neill's team had failed to win here. Yesterday, they finally rolled out the green carpet, en route to another honour.

They were beginning to talk about a curse at Celtic Park. Ever since they laid a lush new pitch six weeks ago, Martin O'Neill's team had failed to win here. Yesterday, they finally rolled out the green carpet, en route to another honour.

There is no silverware handed out for what Celtic achieved, but it is the ultimate prize in Glasgow. Bragging rights do not come cheaply in the Old Firm arena at any time, but securing the first clean sweep against your rivals in 40 years was something almost as precious as the championship.

O'Neill's side have taken their foot off the pedal since storming unbeaten to the Scottish Premier League title weeks ago, but normal service was resumed as Chris Sutton's sublime lob in injury-time snatched victory in the final League encounter of the season against Rangers.

As Alex McLeish said later, it was a cruel way to lose. Rangers, with nothing but pride to play for, appeared to have blunted the feared partnership of Sutton and Henrik Larsson who have collected 64 goals between them. However, Celtic's telepathic pairing summoned up one last effort as Sutton found the net for the 28th time in this remarkable season.

"It was great to complete the grand slam over Rangers," declared O'Neill. "It was a wonder goal from Chris, but it needed to be to beat Stefan Klos who was magnificent yet again." This, though, was Larsson's Old Firm curtain call. The Swede is leaving after seven years and O'Neill is now pursuing Rivaldo as Larsson's replacement. The Celtic manager could do worse than rush off a video tape to the Brazilian, who is still being courted by Bolton.

If the World Cup winner still craves the big stage then Celtic can offer it. "We want to make a real impact in the Champions' League and we need quality players to do that," said O'Neill. Sutton concurred. "It would certainly lift the whole dressing room to have someone like that, but Henrik will be a hard act to follow - he's magnificent," said the striker.

Larsson could yet end up at Rivaldo's alma mater, the Nou Camp, once he decides upon his future after Euro 2004. The Swede, though, was harshly punished after three minutes for a brush with another for whom those finals will be a last bow, Frank de Boer. Holland's most capped footballer failed to cut out a low free-kick into the box by Alan Thompson, which ricocheted into the net off Stanislav Varga, but it was ruled out by the referee, Hugh Dallas, for Larsson's foul on De Boer.

Rangers carved out the best chances in the first half. Although Klos made a fine save from a low Larsson free-kick and pawed away another header from the Swede as Sutton hovered, the best save came from his counterpart, David Marshall, seven minutes before the interval as the Celtic goalkeeper reacted superbly to keep out De Boer's glancing header from a wickedly delivered corner by Mikel Arteta.

The only other imprint upon the goalless first period was left by Fernando Ricksen, whose stamp on Neil Lennon left an ugly scar. However, Celtic recognised that they would have to step up the tempo if they wanted control.

The pressure upon Klos was relentless in the second half. Stilian Petrov ought to have buried a low ball across the face of goal from Larsson just after the hour, then Klos pushed Sutton's header over.

With eight minutes left, Petrov's burst was poised to be finished off by Larsson but instead of his 16th Old Firm goal, Larsson could only summon up a tame shot. However, Larsson is as much a provider as he is a scorer.

With Rangers hanging on, Sutton flicked Marshall's stoppage-time kick-out on to Larsson, whose return ball exposed De Boer and Sutton seized on the situation, measuring up a deft lob over Klos from 30 yards to send Celtic Park into a frenzy.

The "green-and-whitewash" one banner headline had predicted had occurred with the most elegant of brushstrokes.

Celtic 1 Rangers 0
Sutton 90

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 58,851

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