CHRIS SUTTON, the Celtic striker, was at the heart of a row following the dramatic finale to the SPL championship race yesterday. After his team were pipped on goal difference for the title, despite winning 4-0 against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, Sutton accused Dunfermline, 6-1 losers to Rangers at Ibrox, of ''lying down''.

''We knew Dunfermline would lie down at Ibrox, and they did,'' said Sutton, seething at the outcome and, furthermore, sent off in the tunnel for relentless protestation at the perceived injustices inflicted on him and his team-mates.

His remarks sparked fury in the Dunfermline camp and, although no-one would comment, it is understood the club are considering legal action.

Rangers manager Alex McLeish responded by saying: ''Chris should give Rangers credit and his own team credit. It was a great battle and, unfortunately, there had to be a loser. No way did Jimmy Calderwood's team lie down. I could ask Chris if Kilmarnock lay down to Celtic? I don't believe any team would ever do that.''

Despite the disappointment, for the second time in a week, Martin O'Neill's team trudged off with praise ringing in their ears. It has been the strangest of seasons.

Accommodating the biggest crowd Rugby Park has attracted for many a year scuppered the SPL's synchronicity, and Michael Mols had started the Govan goal-fest by the time Kenny Clark set off proceedings in Kilmarnock.

Celtic were similarly brisk in battering down the defensive door, with Sutton opening the scoring in 15 minutes. What followed was a detachment of the senses. Eyes on the pitch, ears on transistor.

Shrieks of encouragement when news filtered through of Jason Dair's equaliser for Dunfermline were in stark contrast to the stunned silence as Rangers racked up their decisive half-dozen.

A vital goal before half-time, again from the ubiquitous Englishman, preserved hope while another penalty caused a crazed cacophony. Alan Thompson, the hero, but his elation would be heartbreakingly brief. While Henrik Larsson hit a post, Rangers were scoring their fourth.

And then a breakthrough. Thompson sent tumbling to the turf by Gordon Marshall. Penalty No.2. Cue more madness and mayhem. The Geordie will be haunted by the memory of his second effort soaring high into the stand. It was the defining moment, perhaps, but mercifully not the one that history will retell as the moment that lost Celtic the championship. It was essentially out of their hands by the time Stilian Petrov added further polish. Outgunned in the end, few followers on any side will forget the season that went out with an almighty bang.