The temperature in Glasgow had less chance of climbing above freezing than Celtic now have of winning the championship

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His name may be Erik Bo rather than Hans Christian, but it was still a fairy-tale nonetheless. "C'mon Andersen, score the winner for us and we'll love you forever," exalted the two Ulstermen who stood throughout, growing increasingly impassioned, at the back of Ibrox's main stand on Thursday.

The Danish striker duly obliged, his late double transforming him, in the eyes of the Rangers faithful at least, from ugly duckling to swan and sending Tommy Burns and his beleaguered team homewards to think again after a shattering 3-1 defeat. And like the frightened fox who held up the action at November's Old Firm game at Celtic Park, Jackie McNamara, the young defender whose "fankle" (that's a mistake to all Sassenachs) gifted Rangers their second goal, discovered that, in games of this nature, there is never any place to hide.

So it's nine in a row (the next morning's papers preferred Nine in a Bo) but not quite the nine in a row that Ibrox covets so much. Not yet, anyway. The statistics simply record that this was the ninth consecutive Old Firm game in which Celtic have failed to beat their arch-rivals; in contrast with the wide open race for the English Premiership, the Scottish championship race is all over bar the shouting. Even the most optimistic of Celtic fans (Burns himself) must now admit that it is going to take a slip up of Newcastle-like proportions for Rangers, now 14 points clear, to loosen their vice-like grip. Or perhaps, as someone ventured to Burns after the game, a miracle. "Ah, but I believe in miracles," was the Celtic manager's curt and defiant riposte.

Old Firm games, particularly the Ne'erday games, are always what football likes to call six pointers, but it was not simply a quirk of the calendar which made this one the most important game of the year, if not the decade - even if the two managers did their utmost to play it down beforehand.

"The most important thing in Old Firm games, as in life, is composure," was Burns' sage contribution, although there was precious little of that commodity in evidence on the night. As Billy McNeill, formerly manager of Manchester City and the man in charge at Parkhead when Celtic last won the championship in 1988, once observed: "Compared to the Old Firm, the Manchester derby is just a March wind. Rangers against Celtic is a January hurricane." In fact, this was more cold firm than Old Firm; both teams were left threadbare by a ferocious flu bug and the temperature in Glasgow had less chance of climbing above freezing than Celtic now have of winning the championship.

No wonder the new Rangers shop (which takes its name, 1873, from the year the club was founded) was doing a roaring trade before the game in training jackets, hats and scarves. But if it was chilly, it was not the Chile that Sebastian Rozental is familiar with. Rangers paraded their new signing, a long-haired striker from Santiago, before the game; if the Celtic fans took any heart from the gesture it was that the 20-year- old was signed from a club named Universidad Catolica.

Goals apart, Rozental drew the biggest cheer of the night; that is, apart from the moment midway through the first half when Rangers' goalkeeper Andy Goram, in returning the ball towards the centre circle, hit Celtic's Italian striker Paul Di Canio on the back; not once, but twice. It was, of course, unintentional; Goram may have thwarted Celtic more times in Old Firm derbies than they will care to remember - Burns has gone as far as to say he wants the inscription on his gravestone to read: "Here lies Tommy Burns, his heart broken by Andy Goram - but the goalie's style is more spectacular than sly.

At least Di Canio was not wearing the rumoured luminous green boots, nor a replica of the gold pair which had raised pounds 58,000 at auction the previous week. Nevertheless, his legs were still a favourite topic of discussion among female callers to Wee Fat Bob's Show on Scot FM after the game, when every caller eschewed the suggested topics of conversation, among them Roger Moore's alimony payments and Mandy Allwood's bank balance. in favour of an Old Firm post-mortem.

Not that it was a classic. For the neutral it must have appeared a tame game of cat and mouse until Andersen took the game beyond Celtic's reach. But in many ways the 90 minutes was simply the sub-plot to a drama which had been unfolding for days, in which the fans, as much as the players, had starring roles. They came from far and wide: from nearby Motherwell - as the biggest flag of the night, unfurled on Celtic's Broomloan Road End revealed - and from the Rangers supporters' club in Blackpool. Sky Sports may have tried to spoil the proceedings by calling for the game to kick off at 6.30pm, an unnatural time for any match, let alone one of this magnitude, but nothing was going to detract from this spectacle.

At the final whistle Gazza, whose own performance was measured rather than memorable, reappeared wearing just blue-and-white flip flops on his feet. He could probably have walked barefoot on a bed of nails and felt no pain, such was his delight. By contrast, the Celtic players appeared leaden-footed, their band of fans, now cruelly conspicuous in their garish highlighter yellow-and-brown striped away shirts, motionless. Glasgow's East End will take some lifting after this. "Cheer up Tommy Burns..." taunted the Rangers fans as they streamed away. Aye, it was a happy new year indeed if you were of blue and white persuasion. Those two Ulstermen were more emphatic: "It's the happiest new year we've ever had."