The King of Kings was the obvious catalyst for victory in this edition of Back to the Fixture, as Celtic went within one point of the league title in their break before he New Year of 2003.
Having beaten Hearts 4-2 in their previous game on Boxing Day – courtesy of a John Hartson hat-trick – Celtic went into their third home tie in a week as Dunfermline came to visit Parkhead. Having already beaten The Pars 2-1 at home earlier in the season – with Larsson grabbing both – and then recording a 4-1 win at East End Park just two months later, Dunfermline manager Jimmy Calderwood would’ve instructed his players to stop the braid-wearing Swede at any cost; but if Henke wasn’t to be the architect of their downfall, then you could easily count on the equally as free-scoring John Hartson to be the man, or even lanky Englishman Chris Sutton. The options were aplenty.
And, as obvious as it was, Dunfermline’s plan was unravelled almost immediately.
It was just the 19th minute when the Swede easily broke the deadlock – but, for all the lovely attacking play that Celtic conjured up throughout the 2002-03 season, this goal was nothing of the virtuoso sort; it came about in the most old-school, route-one way imaginable. A simple free-kick from inside the Celtic half was hoofed up the pitch by Hedman. It landed straight onto the head of the leaping John Hartson, whose header found Chris Sutton. Again, a header followed straight into the path of the welcoming Larsson, who took the ball down before dinking the ball over the hapless Derek Stillie.
If anything, it was a miracle Celtic held on; Dunfermline had the pick of the chances, but were made to rue their missed opportunities as they failed to beat the resolute Hedman in the Celtic net – sending the Hoops’ into the New Year well and truly in the title race.
The Celtic team that day was: Hedman, Valgaeren, Balde, Mjallby, Agathe, Lambert, Petrov (Guppy, 61), Thompson, Sutton, Hartson (McNamara, 75), Larsson.