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Football: Even if there's nothing at stake there's plenty to play for in an Old Firm derby.

Byline: DAVID McCARTHY

THEY might be the best of pals at boardroom level these days as they try to impose their will on the rest of Scottish football.

But when the punters have gathered and the whistle blows, reality is restored and we can be reassured that, deep down, Celtic and Rangers just don't like each other very much.

They might be friends off the pitch. They might even be neighbours. But when you cut to the chase for championship points and silverware, there is no room for niceties.

Even when there is nothing at stake there is plenty to play for. There is always the pride of fans and this time there were Tennent's Scottish Cup Final places up for grabs and one team trying to win 19 out of 19 home games while the other tried to stop them.

In that instance, Rangers won the victory even if they only drew the match.

And in the last minute, the whole shebang, which was meandering towards a 1-1 stalemate, exploded just when the 59,384 inside Parkhead least expected it.

That's why these games are never meaningless and anyone doubting that should have a word with John Hartson, Johan Mjallby and Fernando Ricksen.

That's if the red mist that preceded the red cards has lifted.

A minute from the end of a 1-1 draw that was absorbing from the very first minute when Peter Lovenkrands fired Rangers ahead, those players - and others - again proved that common-sense leaves the building whenever these two teams meet.

Okay, it was more handbags than handguns at 10 paces as the melee ensued inside the Rangers penalty box. Maybe Kenny Clark could have exercised a little more discretion and administered a few yellows, but he too, is only human.

And if we are being honest - or if the tut-tutting purists would pipe down for a minute - we actually enjoy it when the Old Firm lose the plot a little.

If nothing else, it proves that the highly-paid, sometimes over-rated fancy Dan foreigners actually do care when the chips are down.

My God, we even had Andrei Kanchelskis tracking back and making tackles on the edge of his own penalty box and if that player can be converted then this really is a game where anything can happen.

Before the mayhem there was also a moment that proved that no matter the stakes, irrespective of the intensity, decency can also prevail.

It was over in an instant and it was only fleeting but it was important nonetheless. It came after 72 minutes when Lubomir Moravcik was replaced in his last match at Parkhead.

The Rangers manager Alex McLeish stepped from his technical area - surely a banning offence in the eyes of some - to pat the little Slovakian on the back.

Maybe Eck was just delighted to be finally seeing the back of the little craftsman - although he still has a date at Hampden to wreak havoc if he plays as he can - but the Ibrox boss was genuinely paying tribute to a remarkable footballer.

That Moravcik didn't light up this place yesterday was a pity for anyone who wasn't a Rangers fan. But the memories of the times he has shone like a beacon had been noted well enough by the hordes of Hoops fans.

A massive Celtic jersey, stretching over more than 30 rows, was unfolded and below the number 25 was the message: "Thank You and God Bless".

Another huge banner said: "A Gift from God - Thank You Lubo" and when the little man's name was read out at the start, the roof was almost lifted off its rafters.

He came close with one curling free- kick that dive-bombed just a foot too late and in the second half Moravcik might just have retired the happiest man in the world had his header been a few inches lower.

The fact he outjumped a man almost a foot higher than him, Tore Andre Flo, is a matter for the Norwegian's conscience.

But while the spell-binding Slovak was taking most of the attention, it should not be forgotten that another man who has played a massive part in the Celtic story over the years was also bowing out.

For a decade, Tom Boyd served this club quietly, diligently and always professionally.

His type doesn't grab the headlines and there are few Celtic fans cutting about with No. 2 Boyd on their jerseys but the club captain did a fantastic job over the years and his last match at Parkhead saw him bow out with a booking and a bandage around his head - a testament to the fact his competitive edge remains unblunted.

That Boyd and Moravcik were unable to depart with a victory that would have given Celtic a 100 per cent home league record after 19 games, was down to Rangers' first-half performance.

The visitors should have had the contest done and dusted long before Celtic equalised two minutes from the break.

Peter Lovenkrands had used his pace and his liking of the Old Firm occasion to open the scoring in just 70 seconds - his third goal against Celtic this season - and should have added another.

Russell Latapy, who had a fine game in midfield, curled another just wide, as Rangers played on the break, utilising the pace of Kanchelskis and Lovenkrands to great effect.

But Celtic survived and carved out their equaliser through Alan Thompson and at that point would have been favourites to finish the job.

That they didn't was down to Rangers' refusal to budge. Maurice Ross and Bob Malcolm may be kids but Lorenzo Amoruso babysat well.

Then Hartson's header battered the bar and when the ball came down, mayhem ensued.

Still, it makes the build-up the Tennent's Scottish Cup Final in just 12 days' time all the more interesting.

It's doubtful that the word "meaningless" will be used prior to that particular tribal gathering.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 22, 2002
Words:985
Previous Article:Football: Sports Hotline.
Next Article:Football: I KENNY BELIEVE IT; O'Neill considers appeal as three sent off in Old Firm brawl.


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