By Dermot Clarke
The scalpels were out at Celtic Park on Sunday for Dr. Joe Venglos, when he chose to bring Harald Brattbakk into the fray again for the game against St. Johnstone, when most thought that he might opt for the youngster Mark Burchill or Simon Donnelly to do the job. Venglos didn’t have to wait long for his faith to be rewarded. Indeed, it took just five minutes for the Norwegian to open the scoring for the home side.
A crowd of 60,092 showed up to witness one of Celtic’s more impressive displays of recent times. Only a point separated these two teams before the game, but in reality, Celtic are in an entirely different league and they were about to prove it.
In the football dictionary — if there was one — you would find Venglos sandwiched between vengeance and venison, and the word shrewd would be found somewhere in the definition. The grin of self-satisfaction had barely faded when Venglos was given further cause to pat himself on the back.
Lubomir Moravcik made it 2-0 with a goal of the class that you don’t often see from a pittance purchase. Lubo cost Celtic a mere £300,000, a few weeks pay for some of the elite. Moravcik received the ball on the edge of the box from Henrik Larsson, who took time to steady himself before curling his shot round Dods and past the helpless Alan Main in the St. Johnstone net.
Celtic went 3-0 at the break courtesy of a 31st minute goal from the ever industrious Larsson. The long-haired Swedish footballer of the year reaped the benefits of Brattbakks unselfishness, when the Norwegian, who could probably have found the net himself, decided to make sure by heading on to the Swede, who made sure with a header of his own.
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In fairness, St. Johnstone didn’t play badly. It’s just that when Celtic are in this type of mood, there isn’t a team, certainly in Scotland, that can compete with them. Larsson would more than repay his fellow Scandinavian’s earlier generosity in the second half. In a 3-minute spell Henrik made sure that Brattbakk would add another ball to his collection when he slipped an inch-perfect ball through two defenders, leaving the striker with just the keeper to beat, which he did, and then, when faced with an empty net after skipping past Main, Larsson saw the "Please, I’m on a hat-trick" look in Brattbakk’s eye and, recalling a similar situation in the first half, decided to make his hitherto out of favor colleagues day and let him have his third. The 5-0 victory still sees Celtic 13 points behind Rangers, but if this type of form can be kept up who knows what might happen?
If Association Football was played over two halves of 43 minutes, instead of 45, Manchester United would be lying around fifth in the league and they would be out of the F.A. Cup. Alas, by virtue of the fact that some genius decided to make this a 90-minute game, United are top of the league, and a home win against Div. 2 leaders Fulham will see them into the last eight in the cup. Dwight Yorke’s last-minute goal against struggling Charlton was enough to take United to the top.
The premiership has to be the most difficult League in the world to win. Testimony: Seventeenth place Coventry beat Liverpool in sixth place, 3-1. Southampton (19th) beat Leeds (5th), 3-0. Newcastle (14th) beat Aston Villa (2nd), 2-1. Charlton way down in berth 18 are within a whisker of winning a point from the then third place Manchester United, and fourth placed Arsenal beat the leaders Chelsea by, go on guess the score, yes 1-0. Dennis Bergkamp was the man responsible for rattling the most redundant nets in football this week.
When Robbie Fowler did "the in thing" at the time, in pulling his jersey up after scoring, he didn’t reveal a logo of any description, that he might further embellish his bank account, no, Robbie displayed a slogan supporting the dockers in his native and beloved Liverpool, it cost him a few bob, but Robbie felt it was worthwhile. Probably unbeknownst to him, he was making another statement also. He was telling the Anfield faithful that he didn’t ever want to leave them and he proved it by signing a new contract.
Steve McManaman is off though, a horse of a different color is our Steve. The pull of the peseta, will see Steve wearing the Real Madrid colors next year and picking up a weekly wage in excess of £100,000. Was Lubo Moravcik a bargain or what? All that I can say is that the boys at the Bernebau must have been sent all the wrong videos.
McManaman has been with Liverpool for nigh on a decade now. For a Liverpool player, his trophy cabinet is comparatively bare. At the height of his career he is finding great difficulty in gaining international recognition, and do remember he is English, he is fast but has become predictable. He throws one leg then the other over the ball, runs for a bit, stops, fixes his hair, runs a bit more and then there is some variation, he either loses it or crosses for a really, really tall center forward to get on the end of it, alas Liverpool’s three main strikers are all under 5-foot-10 and they frequently let poor Steve down. He will be sadly missed.
Praise for Battistuta
The Florence Nightingales are singing the praises of Gabriel Battistuta at present. The Fiorentina striker is a goal off goal-a-game pace, with 18 in 19 games. On Sunday, he kept the Florence team on top of Serie-A with the clincher in a 3-0 victory over Vicenza. St. Pat’s went four points ahead in Ireland, with a 3-0 victory over Shamrock Rovers, Cork City sharing the spoils with Shelbourne in a six goal thriller.
And spare a thought for Brian Kerr’s youngsters. Needing a victory against Egypt to qualify for the semifinals of the Meridian Cup in Capetown, the lads were a goal up and seemingly on the way when, early in the second half, an Irish player needing attention was aided by a teammate kicking for touch. Usually this sort of gesture is rewarded by the opposing team returning possession. However, the Egyptians, it seems have a different attitude; they equalize from the throw in and put you out of the competition. What price sportsmanship?