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FOOTBALL: Agathe return only bright light on dark night for the Bhoys; OLD FIRM LATEST: TREBLE HOPES OVER FOR THE HOOPS.

Byline: TIM GORDON

CELTIC manager Martin O'Neill believes the return of winger Didier Agathe was partial compensation for the pain of Tuesday night's Old Firm defeat.

Agathe was outstanding in his side's 2-1 extra time defeat by Rangers in the semi-final of the CIS Insurance Cup.

It was his first game since suffering a leg injury against Hearts on November 17 when Andy Webster conceded a penalty with a reckless challenge.

At Hampden Park, the former Hibernian man carried on where he had left off, getting the better of Arthur Numan on the right wing.

O'Neill said: "Didier Agathe epitomised what this football club has been about.

"He played an hour the day before the game and said on the morning he was feeling fine. I said "give us a half" and he proceeded to play the whole game.

"Obviously he was just out on his feet most of the extra time. But he was willing to stay on the pitch and never ever complained. I thought he was magnificent.

"Chris Sutton coming on was another big plus so there were two big pluses but there were more than just two. We were great."

The result meant Celtic's dreams of back-to-back trebles were shattered and although they look certain to retain the title at least Rangers can boast that they are now the only club in Scotland that can do the treble this season.

Of course, the CIS Insurance Cup is the least prestigious of Scotland's three major trophies but O'Neill insisted the pain of defeat had still been intensely felt in the dressing room.

He said: "On the night we were desperately unlucky. But you know my feelings about that - ifs, buts and maybes; keep them out of the equation.

"We have plenty more to play for. I'm not dismissing it either. I was so disappointed to be beaten.

"So were the players and naturally our supporters but I don't think I have one complaint about their effort."

Rangers' victory was one to savour as it ended the five-game losing streak in Old Firm clashes that Alex McLeish had inherited from Dick Advocaat.

Celtic had not won six on the trot since 1972 when Jock Stein was in charge and McLeish had gone into his first Old Firm challenge in the knowledge that no new Ibrox manager had lost his debut since John Greig in 1978.

McLeish insisted that he had been under no illusions about the pressures that bear down upon a manager during Old Firm week.

He said: "I'm aware of the fine line. There are a lot of exterior pressures that I can't do anything about, the media hype.

"I tried to keep away from those pressures and I felt reasonably calm before and during the game - most of the time."

The win came at a cost though, with Craig Moore taken off on a stretcher with a leg injury and Ronald de Boer concussed following a clattering by Bobo Balde.

Lorenzo Amoruso had also been hurt near the end of the 90 minutes but recovered to complete the extra half-hour in spite of what appeared to be a hole in his leg.

At that point McLeish had already sent on Tony Vidmar, the only defender on the bench, to replace Moore, so a reshuffle featuring Stephen Hughes was on the cards until the Italian made it clear he would play on.

McLeish said: "You have to keep calm in these situations. There is nothing you can do about it. You have to get on with it and call on the subs to roll their sleeves up.

"We were preparing for big Lorenzo to come off although I must say it was fantastic to see him walking back on the pitch again.

"Craig has done a hamstring so we paid a price. Ronald took a head knock and was dizzy at half-time."

The fact that the much maligned Bert Konterman, whose name had been cheered by the Celtic fans before kick-off, netted the winner also added to the occasion.

The Dutchman was signed by Advocaat as a defender but a nightmare first season saw him switched to a midfield holding role.

O'Neill added: "It was a great strike by Konterman, a goal good enough to win a lot of games to be perfectly honest."

CAPTION(S):

MIXED NIGHT: Managers Alex McLeish and Martin O'Neill (opposite); SCRAMBLE: Sutton, Balde and Amoruso in goalmouth action; STAR MAN: Winger Didier Agathe caused Rangers all sorts of problems on the right and his return from injury was a major boost for Celtic
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 7, 2002
Words:762
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