Fifteen years ago, Celtic faced Rangers at Celtic Park knowing that a win was essential to keep the dream of a third successive league title alive. Paul Hartley started the game in central midfield with Barry Robson and the Celtic fan growing up left a sore one on Lee McCulloch as Celtic battled from the first minute to the last. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink provided late drama to win it for Celtic after Nakamura’s opener had been cancelled out by Nacho Novo.
The Cove Rangers manager reflected on the famous win with the Scottish Sun a few years ago but given the nature of the Scottish Cup Semi-Final in the next couple of weeks, revisiting his comments are poignant. The win, under the Paradise lights, would prove to be vital to Celtic winning the league that season.
“It was such a special night and the drama of that game was never matched in my career.
“We had to win. A draw was no use. But when Scotty missed the penalty you start to fear it’s just not your night.
“We scored a lot of late goals under Gordon and I’ll never forget Jan’s goal that night. It was like slow-motion.
“Gary Caldwell chipped the ball to the back post and Scotty headed it across. The noise when it hit the net was incredible.”
Rangers went into the game 4 points clear with two games in hand over Celtic, they were 1-8 to win the league before the game kicked-off but Hartley believes that the win was the catalyst for Celtic pushing on and winning the title.
“As I said, we had to deliver. To do it so late made it all the more dramatic and it really set us up for the run-in.
“We had another game against Rangers at Celtic Park just 11 days later and we won that 3-2.
“But there is no doubt that first win was the catalyst for us going on to win the title.”
Hartley provided Celtic with a tough core against Smith’s Rangers, who were dogged and rough. Hartley and Robson gave as good as the got and bullied the Rangers midfield all night.
“Nobody spoke about stuff like that before the game.
“We knew the Rangers midfield would be up for a battle, so we had to approach it the same way.
“After the game people said Robbo’s challenge set the tone and it probably did. But in any derby you need to be physical and earn the right to play.”