Friday 23 May ~

The headlines are still dominated by Alex Ferguson as the reaction to Wednesday night rolls on. But in Scotland, Sir Alex's old friend (and for a short period in 2004 his managerial assistant) Walter Smith finally had to admit defeat to Celtic in the SPL. Only six weeks ago Rangers had a seven-point lead and a game in hand on their Glasgow rivals and were looking to win a historic quadruple. After a UEFA Cup final defeat in Manchester and losing 2-0 to Aberdeen last night, they can now only win two domestic cups. Not that Celtic will care.

A win at Tannadice last night was secured by a 72nd-minute header from Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink but Celtic nerves were calmed by news of Aberdeen's second goal against Rangers. At this, the helicopter with the SPL trophy waiting mid-way between Aberdeen and Dundee headed south, delivering the trophy to Celtic for the third consecutive season. This made Gordon Strachan the first Celtic manager since Jock Stein to achieve this feat, on a night made doubly emotional by the recent death of Tommy Burns.

But the story of this season's SPL had been shaping up very differently. When Celtic lost at home to Motherwell in early April many thought they had “all but conceded their Scottish Premier League crown”. After last night's seventh straight win, Gordon Strachan thanked his players for an incredible season. He then refused further questions and said: “Now if you don't mind, I'm going to be with people who have supported and believed in us.” This was clearly a jibe at his critics but a fair one after the pressure he was under earlier in the season. Some Scottish football writers might not agree, but Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell described Strachan as a legend: “We have been written off and come back. What a wonderful night for this club.”

So while Celtic celebrate, Rangers still have one more game to play. Their 68th match of the season is the Scottish Cup final tomorrow at Hampden Park. They face a Queen of the South side who beat Aberdeen 4-3 in the semi-finals and are already assured of a place in next season's UEFA Cup. Though Queen of the South manager Gordon Chisholm has had little luck in career cup finals so far – an own goal for Sunderland that won the 1985 Milk Cup final for Norwich and an defeat to Celtic as manager of Dundee United in 2005 – many are warning Rangers to beware the underdog. The season could yet get worse for the blue half of Glasgow.

Comments (1)
Comment by Blue is the Cuellar 2008-05-23 13:06:19

Indeed. Although a scrappy 1-0 win for Rangers will still represent a reasonable return, given expectations last summer. Rangers were tipped to finish second, maybe win a cup (as usual, basically), but not to get anywhere near a European final. Of course, Celtic retain bragging rights, but for Rangers' more thoughtful fans it could have been worse.

Those fans (and their Celtic equivalent) recognise what can reasonably be expected from a manager. He'll get three years and must win two league titles as well as maintaining or improving European performances. Strachan qualifies, for all his problems, and Smith isn't so far short.

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