Bhoys dent Gers' title tilt
Celtic stretched their lead at the top of the SPL to five points as they edged out Rangers 3-2 at Parkhead.
By Peter Fraser
Last Updated: 28/04/08 3:20pm
Celtic stretched their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to five points as they edged out Rangers 3-2 in a thrilling Old Firm derby at Parkhead.
Gordon Strachan's side went into their final meeting of the season with their Glasgow neighbours well aware that a second victory over their local rivals - who enjoy the luxury of three games in hand - in 12 days was essential if they were to keep alive hopes of retaining their top-flight title by haulting Rangers' pursuit of league silverware.
And this showed as Celtic took the lead in the fourth minute as Scott McDonald, who looked to be bordering on offside, latched onto a Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink flick to outpace the Rangers defence and fire past goalkeeper Neil Alexander.
However, Rangers - who had started the brightest - hit back on 17 minutes as veteran defender David Weir headed in at a corner and then 12 minutes later Celtic's zonal marking was caught out in copy-cat fashion as Daniel Cousin nodded his side in front.
Rangers then enjoyed the better of proceedings, but Celtic restored parity two minutes before the interval as McDonald held off Christian Dailly on the edge of the box to curl in with the aid of a slight deflection.
And then in the second half, Barry Robson decided an epic encounter as he smashed in from the penalty spot on 70 minutes after Kirk Broadfoot had felled McDonald in the 18-yard area.
Rangers' misery then grew in injury-time as Steven Whittaker was handed his marching orders after collecting his second booking for clattering Shunsuke Nakamura.
This crunch match needed little extra spice but it got it when Rangers manager Walter Smith criticised Parkhead chief executive Peter Lawwell for complaining about the season possibly being extended if the Ibrox side reached the Uefa Cup final in Manchester next month.
The first-half matched anything the Old Firm had served up in over 100 years of rivalry.
Rangers had lost 2-1 at Parkhead just under a fortnight ago to a last-gasp goal by Vennegoor of Hesselink and this time fell behind with only four minutes gone to a McDonald goal.
Andreas Hinkel drove a long ball towards Vennegoor of Hesselink who had the time and space to head the ball down to the Australian striker who ignored the possibility of being offside to drill his shot from 14 yards past Alexander.
The loss of the early goal put paid to the Rangers' defensively-minded game-plan and they responded positively, pushing with some enthusiasm for the equaliser.
In the 15th minute some careless handling by Alexander conceded a needless corner from which Ibrox left-back Whittaker was fortunate not to be penalised when Gary Caldwell's header appeared to strike his arm.
But a minute later the visitors were level when a Davis corner from the left was headed home by Weir, with Celtic keeper Artur Boruc flapping in a packed six-yard box.
Moments later, Rangers wide-man Nacho Novo robbed Naylor wide on the right but the little Spaniard found no takers with his cut-back from the dead-ball line.
Rangers had the edge and in the 29th minute they took the lead from another Davis corner which left the Celtic defence exposed.
When the flighted delivery came in at the near post, Cousin rose highest to glance high past Boruc.
Celtic took control as the game sped towards the interval and with three minutes of a pulsating first period remaining, McDonald's shot from the edge of the box took a deflection off Dailly and looped over Alexander to draw the teams level.
The interval gave everyone inside Parkhead the opportunity to draw breath but the mayhem resumed after the break.
McDonald was sent clean through by Nakamura but strangely opted to square the ball to Vennegoor of Hesselink who was robbed by Rangers defender Sasa Papac as he hesitated before getting his shot away.
The home side, busier and more determined, remained on top with Rangers pressed back in to their own half with their only out-ball appearing to be the long punt to Whittaker.
In the 69th minute Rangers defender Broadfoot grappled McDonald to the ground inside the box to concede a penalty and earn a yellow card, the former St Mirren player lucky not to see red.
Robson drove his spot-kick past Alexander to give Celtic back their lead and from there on in, the home side looked in no real danger.
In injury time, Whittaker was sent packing after he revealed his frustration by fouling Nakamura on the touchline.