Stubbs's strike saves Celtic from bankruptcy

 

Alan Stubbs's headed equaliser for Celtic literally 10 seconds from the end of an extraordinary match almost overshadowed Paul Gascoigne's first ordering-off in Scottish football.

The Englishman walked in the 59th minute for swinging a punch at Morten Wieghorst, but Marco Negri swept Rangers into the lead 13 minutes later. Stubbs's goal was the result of hard work rather than inventiveness.

Celtic's ambition had clearly been fuelled by the defeat at Ibrox 10 days earlier, but even if they were more of a match for most of the time, they still spent too long failing to test Goram.

The home side had more pace and diligence about them, but they were clearly helped by Rangers's enforced reversion to a 4-4-2 line-up, departing from their normal 3-5-2 because of the unavailability of central defender Sergio Porrini.

Brian Laudrup also failed a fitness test, bringing Gordon Durie into attack alongside Marco Negri, but it was in midfield that the significance of the changes was to be observed.

In that first game, Paul Gascoigne, Rino Gattuso and Jonas Thern simply outnumbered Craig Burley and Morten Wieghorst. In this renewal, the fours matched up and Burley, aided notably by Paul Lambert, was able to exert more of an influence than he had managed at Ibrox.

Still, it was Wieghorst who created the first threat in the first minute of the game. The tall Dane forced his way down the left and carried the ball into the penalty area before having his shot blocked. The ball came out to Lambert, whose drive was low and beautifully-struck, but was faintly deflected just wide of Goram's right-hand post as the goalkeeper rushed across goal.

There was an obvious improvement for most of the time in Celtic's ability to compete with their greatest rivals, but it was still Rangers who made the moments of real menace. Gascoigne, always the most irresistible player when in the mood, made the first for Negri.

Pulling the home defence towards him on his way through the middle, the Englishman suddenly flicked the ball right to Negri. The Italian, who until recently seemed incapable of missing, had only Jonathan Gould to beat, but scooped the ball amateurishly yards over the bar.

Negri did force the only save of the entire first half with a flicked header from Jorg Albertz's chipped free kick from the left, causing Gould to tip the ball to safety from just under the crossbar.

The untidiness that inevitably seeps into these matches caused eight bookings in that first half. Jonas Thern, Albertz, Wieghorst and Gattuso could all justifiably claim harsh treatment, but Richard Gough, Tom Boyd, Alex Cleland and Stephane Mahe would have little about which to complain. Nor could Gascoigne, whose sending-off came after 14 minutes of the second half.

Pushing through midfield with the ball at his feet, the midfielder was harassed by Wieghorst. It was a normal situation for Gascoigne, the elbows holding the challenger at bay. But Wieghorst's persistence caused Gascoigne to lose his self-control and he took a punch at the Dane. Mr Rowbotham dismissed him immediately.

It was not only a bad moment for Gascoigne, but it meant that his team had lost their most creative force. Even so, Celtic had terrible problems trying to create the genuine scoring opportunity. It was Rangers who did so, in fact, when Durie's ball down the line to Negri suddenly left the Italian running towards Gould without a challenge. Unbelievably, the deadliest striker in the country this season once again stabbed the ball wide.

Even more incredibly, Negri then scored with a more difficult chance. Durie once again was the feed, this time leaving Negri clear on the left, but it was from a difficult angle that he squeezed the low, left-foot shot past Gould.

After the match their was support for Gascoigne from his teammates who considered his sending-off harsh. More surprisingly, one-time Celtic defender Paul Elliott echoed that view, commenting: "It was a bad decision and one consistent with the referee's performance overall. Paul did raise his arm, but it was only a sign of frustration and there was minimal contact with Wieghorst."