Celtic, 1991 – Dizzy heights of a 12 match unbeaten run then things started to unravel

In the previous instalments of The Celtic Star’s look at the early 90’s we looked at the two wins in the space of a week over Graeme Souness’s expensively assembled Rangers side in March 1991.

The win in the Scottish Cup 2-0 in what became known as The St Patricks Day Massacre was followed up by the 3-0 Palm Sunday Humiliation as Celtic won the first league encounter against their great rivals in two and a half years. It also had Celtic reach the dizzy heights of a twelve match unbeaten run.

Defensively Celtic were starting to look assured as the two Rangers results had shown. In midfield there was genuine quality with the likes of Paul McStay and John Collins while up front Tommy Coyne, Gerry Creaney and Charlie Nicholas, in his second stint with the Club certainly knew the way to goal.

All we had been needing was confidence and from it would come consistency. A Scottish Cup was up for grabs, get that and it would mean we’d go into the following season confident of being a genuine challenge to Aberdeen and Rangers. We also had a close fight on our hands for a UEFA cup place with Dundee United.

Hopes for a revival were quickly dispelled in a way only Celtic at the time could do.

Following those fantastic victories Celtic came crashing back to earth. Motherwell in particular caused Celtic’s season to stumble and any confidence built up, as fragile as it would have been was soon knocked out of us.

Following on from the two Rangers wins Celtic lost the following weekend on 30 March 1991, 2-1 at Celtic Park to the Steelmen in the league. Tommy Coyne had opened the scoring with a scorching 20 yard finish but somehow Celtic threw away a hard fought advantage and goals from Tom Boyd (whatever happened to that lad) just before half time and a goal right at the start of the second half from Well’s Iain Ferguson saw a deficit Celtic couldn’t recover from.

Motherwell won 2-1 at Celtic Park just after our two wins over Rangers in March 1991

Celtic again fell to a Motherwell side who would go on to lift the Scottish Cup in a classic Hampden final against Dundee United, when losing the Scottish Cup Semi-final 4-2 in a replay at a rain soaked Hampden after a goalless first encounter. This was a body blow to the Club and one Billy McNeill would never quite recover from.

Celtic had been in front twice through Coyne and Rogan but a double from Dougie Arnott, a 35 yard strike from Colin O’Neil and a Stevie Kirk Swerving shot into the top corner saw paid to Celtic’s last chance of silverware. Celtic could point to a harshly disallowed Paul Elliot ‘goal’ but in truth they were second best in the second half in particular.

Between those cup ties Celtic lost 1-0 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie to a 19th minute Eoin Jess goal. It was a disappointing defeat but it must be said Celtic had given their all and played very well, it was a game that gave Aberdeen hope in their title race with Rangers but it was probably the exertions of such an end to end match that saw the Celts run out of steam in the Cup semi-final replay that followed.

Then on 13 April also lost 2-1 to Dundee United away. This in particular looked like being a brutal blow to Celtic’s European qualification hopes as The Celts were vying with the Tannadice club for third place and for the last European slot. Things were starting to unravel.

Van der Hoorn scored a fine goal to open the scoring in 45 minutes before a Maurice Malpas own goal following a Charlie Nicholas effort in the 59th minute saw Celtic right back into things, but in the last minute of the match Ray McKinnon bulleted a header past Bonner to win the tie and put United in the driving seat for Europe.

Since the heady heights of those Rangers wins and a 12 game unbeaten run Celtic faced the scarcely believable position of four defeats and a draw in their next five matches. They were out the Scottish Cup and hanging onto European qualification hopes by their fingernails.

It was going to take a monumental effort from Celtic to grasp something meaningful to take into the next season. There were now four games remaining and it was starting to look like wins in all of those encounters would be needed. It would be a big ask. With momentum lost it was looking like a forlorn hope that European competition may be seen at Celtic park for the 1991-92 season.

When Celtic faced Dunfermline at home on 20 April 1991 the official attendance was only 14,268. It showed the belief that Celtic has instilled after the Rangers games had evaporated but Celtic delivered some hope at least that they may still have that European place as a tangible target.

In earlier defeats at Aberdeen and Dundee United Celtic had played well in defeat and not quite received the rewards their efforts deserved. Against the Pars those frustrations were taken out on their opponents and then some.

Celtic were two up by half time through Tommy Coyne and Charlie Nicholas. In the second half Nicholas added his Celtic and Tommy Coyne matched his tally. Neither, Coyne or Nicholas managed to get their hat trick however, as the fifth and final goal of the afternoon was scored by Derek Whyte. Dunfermline managed a consolation through Jack in the 80th minute.

A 5-1 win at Celtic Park was a massive boost as The Bhoys moved into the final three fixtures against Hearts at Tynecastle, St Mirren at Celtic park before finishing with St Johnstone away.

It was going to need a continuation of the fine win against Dunfermline.

We’ll look at the final three games of the 1990/91 season and Celtic’s attempt to get that final European spot in the next instalment of The Celtic Star’s look at Celtic’s forgotten years of the early 1990’s.

Niall J

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About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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