O'Neill's Bhoys herald a brave, bright new dawn
CELTIC 6 RANGERS 2 SUPPORTERS have a ferocious thirst for heroes, but at Celtic Park yesterday there were enough of them to slake the craving of the vast home crowd.
The men who established a 3-0 lead in the opening 11 minutes will be celebrated and there were songs, too, for Henrik Larsson, who checked a stylish comeback by the visiting side.
But one individual's influence permeated the match. It is too early to know if the balance of power has changed, but Martin O'Neill made Glasgow's footballing order shudder with this result.
Afterwards, the former Leicester City boss was delighted with the performance, but insisted nobody at the club will be getting carried with the result.
``They were absolutely fantastic. Even at 4-1 I was thinking there is a long, long way to go. They got back to 4-2, and I think the only time I ever really felt comfortable was when Sutton put the sixth one in. But at the end of all this Rangers are still the benchmark and are a top class side.
``The players are all delighted, but there is no feeling of euphoria because a few of them have been here a couple of years and they know not to get too carried away with anything.
Rangers manager Dick Advocaat was understandably in sombre mood and labelled his side's display as the worst he has seen since being in charge.
``Quite simply we have to give all the credit to Celtic. The scoreline doesn't lie, and they deserved to win. There is no doubt this was the worst game we have played since I have been here. We were very poor, and they looked like they would score with every attack.
``We have four internationals at the back, and I don't want to point the finger at certain individuals - but we were poor today.''
There was a fresh mentality about a Celtic side that, of late, has rued its misfortune selfpityingly or capitulated totally during a long sequence of poor results against Rangers.
There was none of that here and it was the team's temperament that bore up during periods of cultivated domination by their rivals.
When the chances came to establish the early ascendancy, the execution was sharp. Since O'Neill has so far signed just two players, it made one wonder what lies ahead as his reshaping of the squad proceeds.
This result equalled Celtic's record victory, in 1938, over Rangers on their own ground. Some will recall that the Ibrox side lost 5-1 at this venue in 1998 and still won the championship, yet, while they may do so again, there is no real parallel. This is not to be confused with a random eruption by Celtic, since it follows a run of four victories in the Scottish Premier League.
Rangers are left to deep reflection, because, while the skill of the team was obvious, its significance was undermined by a collapsing defence.
Worse still, the greatest culprits were Fernando Ricksen and Bert Konterman, on whom Dick Advocaat spent a total of stg£10m in the summer.
The manager resolved one problem by removing Ricksen after 23 minutes, but that still left Konterman in a centre-back partnership that was intimidated and mastered by Chris Sutton, the scorer of two goals.
After his debut for Celtic, away to Dundee United, Sutton, with studied provocation, stated that ``the important thing is to put Rangers in their place.'' As a comment, it was unhelpful to civic relations in Glasgow and, at a personal level, put severe pressure on himself. He showed no signs of feeling that strain, even if his opener should probably have been ruled out for offside.
By the end, the misery of Rangers was complete and, eight minutes from the end, with the score at 5-2, Barry Ferguson was sent off. Having been booked already, he was foolish enough to handle the ball after he stumbled and lost control.
He appeared to compound his irresponsibility by gesturing at Celtic supporters while trooping off. The dismissal had no bearing on a game shaped by the venom of Celtic's onslaught at the beginning.
Bobby Petta tormented Ricksen and from Lubomir Moravcik's corner kick in the first minute, Alan Stubbs and Larsson both attempted to finish. The latter merely scuffed his shot and Sutton, close to the goal-line and seemingly offside, shot home.
Six minutes later, Stilian Petrov was in isolation to head another Moravcik corner into the net. After 11 minutes, Moravcik took possession from Petta, before rolling the ball into the path of Lambert, who scored the third.
To their credit, Rangers, when on the attack at least, were never short of purpose and Advocaat's reorganisation brought Tugay, and his clever passing, into a five-man midfield.
The effect was accentuated by the fact that Lambert, the defensive linchpin for Celtic in that department, had to be substituted with a groin strain.
After 45 minutes, Rod Wallace dodged Stubbs on the left and put a splendid cross to the far post for Claudio Reyna to head in.
Wallace himself seemed to have added another, only to be ruled offside questionably, and a recovery was feasible, but Rangers were also in regular danger of being split open.
Larsson, who had wasted two chances in the first half, was unsparing in his exposure of Rangers' deficiencies in the 50th minute. Collecting Sutton's lay-off, he left Tugay and then Konterman in his wake before floating the ball over Stefan Klos.
A counter-attack soon brought Rangers a penalty that Billy Dodds converted, but all of the visiting team's efforts were liable to be mocked by the ease with which Celtic replied.
Larsson put Petta's free-kick beyond Klos with a precise header after a determined leap, but Advocaat will not excuse the men who should have set him a more difficult task.
Insistently though they attempted to stay on the attack, Rangers, in a hopeless cause, found their energy fading and they were powerless to intervene in the closing moments as Petta released Mahe and he struck the low, perfect cut-back that Sutton accepted for Celtic's sixth.
There is much for O'Neill still to do, but supporters who dreaded the future now await it with excitement.
The Times, London.