Football: Celtic are bewitched by Hateley

Celtic. . . . 2

Collins 46, Nicholas 81

Rangers. . . .4

Hateley 1, Mikhailichenko 4, 28 Kuznetsov 76

Attendance: 48,506

THE game had been won and lost before many of the 48,506 supporters - Britain's largest football crowd yesterday - had taken up their positions around Celtic Park. A combination of appalling defensive play, the predatory genius of Mark Hateley, and the precision of Alexei Mikhailichenko undermined Celtic's challenge.

They did not begin to play until the second half, but by then they were three goals behind and some of their fans were turning violent. At the third goal fighting broke out in various parts of the ground. One Celtic fan, who had made a miraculous recovery after receiving first aid, sprinted on to the pitch towards Rangers' goalkeeper, Ally Maxwell. Fortunately, he was caught before he reached his target. Three fans were charged by the police, and the SFA will surely want to know more about the incidents.

Within the opening seconds of the match, Hateley, who had run on to a Stuart McCall pass struck from deep within his own territory, was menacing Pat Bonner. Gary Gillespie and Dariusz Wdowczyk appeared mesmerised by the sweetness of the pass, and the striker was able to draw Bonner from his line and score his 21st of the season.

Only a minute had gone and Celtic were in trouble. They were still moping two minutes later when Hateley and Gordon Durie combined to release Neil Murray, who also found the heart of Celtic's defence inept. When Bonner parried Murray's shot, Mikhailichenko pounced, squeezing the ball in despite a tight angle. Mikhailichenko added a third in 28 minutes and the optimism coursing through Celtic Park since Lou Macari's arrival as manager drained rapidly.

Celtic's players were relieved to escape indoors at the interval. However, they were given hope in the first minute of the second half when John Collins collected the ball from a short free-kick, ran through a couple of lunges, and splendidly beat Maxwell at his left-hand post. Collins urged the fans to be more vociferous in their support, and gradually Celtic took control. Rangers had made the mistake of settling for what they had and were standing off players in the midfield. Charlie Nicholas hit the bar from 25 yards, but the next goal came from another Ukrainian, Oleg Kuznetsov, sent on to replace Murray.

He marked his arrival with a tremendous shot on the drop from 20 yards. It would be comforting to think that Kuznetsov, a possessor of wondrous skills, might now, after three years of misery, establish himself, but the Premier Division is still no place for a player without pace.

Nicholas scored a consolation goal eight minutes from time, a strike missed by many of Celtic's fans, who had headed off long before. The opposition's foot soldiers, by contrast, were still partying after the players had left. They are now entitled to believe Rangers could be about to launch themselves towards their sixth successive championship. Key players like McCall, Durie and Richard Gough have returned from injury, and, with other casualties preparing to come back, the second half of the season holds great promise.

For Macari, the future holds more days spent looking for players to revitalise Celtic. However, given the club's finances, he may only be able to window-shop.

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