By Dermot Clarke
Someone up above is probably still trying to convince Jock Stein about Sunday’s Old Firm game. He probably believes that Rangers won the game 4-2, but he’ll find it difficult to accept that Johansson, Albertz, Amoruso and Amato scored for the winners, while Eyal Berkovic notched two for his beloved Celtic.
Jock, as we all know, won the European Cup with a Celtic team, all of whom were born within spitting distance of Parkhead. Names like McNeill, Auld, Chalmers and Johnstone still roll off the tongues of the Celtic faithful, young and old, as if they were present day stars, I wonder, though, how many of Sunday’s team will be recalled in 30 years time. The most articulate of Glaswegians would have difficulty with some of the names and few will be recalled in Celtic folklore for the heart and grit that was the trademark of any team fielded by the great Jock Stein.
For me, the game was over when in the third minute of first-half injury time when Rangers were awarded a penalty. Referee Kenny Clark awarded the spot-kick after Paul Lambert was adjudged to have tripped Jorg Albertz in the penalty box. It was a rash challenge by Lambert, but the German did make a meal of it and, as a result of the tangle, Celtic lost Lambert, who was stretchered off with facial injuries after being caught by the knee of Albertz.
The kick was converted by the maker and the sides were level at halftime. Celtic were seconds away from going in 2-1 up and now it was all-square and they would have to start the second half without one of the few with the necessary fire within for such an occasion. It could be argued though that Lambert might well have been sent off, were he not carried off; the midfielder was on a yellow for an earlier foul on Lorenzo Amoruso and it looked like leniency was applied by the referee for the stretcher victim.
Celtic responded well to Johansson’s opener after 20 minutes. Mark Viduka and Eyal Berkovic linked up twice to put them ahead. The former West Ham star rolled the ball home in the 21st and 42nd minutes, before the penalty had them level again. Rangers were slightly the better in the first half, but it was all blue, alas, in the second period. Goals from Amoruso and Amato wrapped it up for the Gers. It might have been more but for Jonathan Gould in the Celtic goal. Ian Wright’s contribution was minimal. The striker will score a lot of goals against poorer defenses in this division, but as far as Celtic are concerned, the game was crying out for one Henrik Larsson.
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United on top
Manchester United moved back to the top of the Premier division courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Leicester. Andy Cole scored both goals, the first a sublime bicycle kick from the edge of the area.
Wimbledon stun Leeds
It was Wimbledon who stole the headlines with a 2-0 victory over Leeds United. The Dons entered the game on a run of 29 games without a clean sheet. Leeds were on a run of 12 games undefeated and were top of the table, leaving a 2-0 win for the Londoners as a difficult forecast.
Goals from John Hartson and Marcus Gayle won the day and the needed points for Wimbledon, and David O’Leary won’t be too happy with his hitherto high-flyers performance on the day.
Another derby with a tradition of high emotion took place at White Hart Lane on Sunday. North London rivals Spurs and Arsenal went at it in no uncertain terms. The powers that be awarded control of the game to David Elleray and Elleray, as usual, lost it. Ten yellow and two reds were issued by the man in the middle as the Gunners went down 2-1 and finished the game with nine men. Freddie Ljungberg and Martin Keown were the recipients of the red cards and another yellow for Patrick Vieira extends his already lengthy suspension by another week. Goals from Steffen Iversen and Tim Sherwood won the day for Spurs. Vieira it was who got the lone reply for the out of sorts Gunners.
Creeping up the table into fifth place — Liverpool. An unbeaten run of six games, four wins at Anfield to the concession of one goal and Michael Owen is back to boot. Danny Murphy (I knew he was still there) got the first and Jamie Redknapp wrapped up the latest victory 2-0 over Derby. Steve Staunton will miss the games against Turkey as a result of a freakish injury during the game. A shot by Dieter Hamann hit the Irish defender on the foot and he twisted his knee as a result.
Sunderland were reduced to 10 men but still fought bravely to gain a point at Middlesbrough and stay in the hunt. They had fallen behind to a brilliant piece of skill from Hamilton Ricard, who curled home an unstoppable effort on 76, but two minutes later they were awarded a penalty when Niall Quinn was adjudged to have been pushed in the area. Kevin Phillips saw his kick saved by Mark Schwarzer, but young Michael Reddy, a £30,000 purchase from Kilkenny City, was smartest to the rebound and he slotted home to give his team a point.
And so we enter a five-day Beta-blocker period as Ireland face Turkey in a two-leg playoff for a place in Euro 2000. The Turks will take us to Bursa for the second leg. There will no doubt be Camels involved in the journey. The game will be played at a time of construction boom in Bursa and the shortage of available tradesmen will ensure much overtime for the men and little sleep for the Irish, but we can, with a big victory at Lansdowne, make the Hannibal-like journey to Turkey into a mere autumn sojourn. Bursa major could become Bursa minor if we play to our best at home, with our best team on the field. So the question on everybody’s lips must be, is Gary Breen OK? Or where is Gary Breen? The center-half, once again failed to make the Coventry lineup at the weekend, yet he seems to have little difficulty in making the Irish lineup.
If the crowd get behind the team, I do believe a three- or four- goal win is on the cards. The Turks are good, and they can win games by mere intimidation and underhandedness at home. But they can be, and have proved to be in the past, poor travelers. We have, I believe, our best available to us for the games. I know we’re good enough and am confident that we can at last overcome the playoff jinx.