AS Celtic fans celebrated their second dose of Old Firm delight inside five days, Rangers supporters and their manager, too, raged at the indiscipline of Dutch defender Fernando Ricksen, whose sending-off just before half-time left his team a man short and a goal down in the most crucial title game of the season.

The consequence is that Celtic, who won 1-0, are heading for the championship in manager Martin O'Neill's first season, unless Rangers can make up 12 points or Hibs 11, while their 3-1 success over their old rivals in the CIS Insurance Cup semi-final at Hampden last Wednesday means that they are on course for the treble.

As O'Neill, naturally, played down any semblance of euphoria, Rangers manager Dick Advocaat refused to discuss the sending-off of Ricksen at length, but his demeanour made it clear he was not amused. That was plain enough when he spoke to the player as Ricksen went towards the tunnel and the look of fury on the manager's face was more explicit than a hundred words.

He said: ''I think it is easier to make no comment on that. I will discuss it with Fernando - I think that's best. I wasn't very happy with him - that's what I said to him when he came off.''

He hinted strongly that, if it had not been for the fact that he was without so many players through injury and suspension, he would not have picked Ricksen . . . ''I had no choice.''

Now, it remains to be seen what will transpire but Ricksen, who is due to have his appeal against an earlier suspension heard this week, may find it difficult to regain his place for some time.

His first appearance in the Old Firm game was at Parkhead last August, soon after joining the club from AZ Alkmaar, but Advocaat took him off after 23 minutes when he was being given the runaround by Bobby

Petta. His behaviour yesterday, when he was the first man to be booked and then compounded it with another foul that left referee Hugh Dallas with no option but to order him off, has done his stock no good, at all.

The Rangers manager did not attempt to hide from the near impossibility of retaining the championship from 12 points behind with 12 games to go.

He said: ''We have to be realistic. It will now be very, very difficult to catch Celtic but, as long as it is still possible, we have to believe in it. In football, everything is possible.''

An early goal by Alan Thompson decided the match but Rangers, who had been outplayed in the first half, did well with 10 men for a long time in the second period.

''Today, I felt it was very important to score the first goal.'' said Advocaat. ''Instead, Celtic did and they deserved to be 1-0 ahead at half-time.

''I think the way we played in the second half, we have to give the team credit.

''We played much better than in the first half and had some chances to score.

''I'm not pleased with the first half but they worked hard with 10 men.''

He had warned his side before the game that there could be further cards. He said: ''I said to them the first tackle will be yellow or red, normally yellow. Unfortunately, it was on our side.''

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill refused to admit that the title race was over after the match.

He gave an appearance of calm but, no doubt, he was bubbling inside.

''Both teams knew exactly what was at stake and this is a big win for us, but we could win another eight games and still not have the championship secured.

''We have not won it yet but the boys are aware that this is a big win and it definitely gives us a cushion.

''We played some brilliant football in the first half and got the goal, but we should have killed the game off before half-time.

''They caused us a few problems after the break and Didier Agathe had to head the ball off the line, but we had the chances to kill it off.''

Swiss internationalist Ramon Vega, who was the sponsors' man of the match, wore a huge smile and a whopper of a black eye after the game.

''It was an accident when Jorg Albertz and I collided,'' he explained.

The man brought from Spurs for the rest of this season was almost speechless when asked to compare the atmosphere with any of the many big games he has played in his career.

''It is just unbelievable. You cannot understand it until you experience it,'' he said.

He had given tickets to former Spurs team-mates Sol Campbell and Les Ferdinand and added: ''They will have seen what it is like. At White Hart Lane, we used to run out of the tunnel to a depressed lot of fans who started booing in no time if things did not go right. Here, the fans have been fantastic. The noise before the start was incredible.

''I will be talking to the manager about my own position, but if I can stay with this great club and their wonderful fans then I would be happy.

''I think they should offer Martin O'Neill an extended contract. He is an excellent manager.

''We still have a long way to go before we can win the title but if we drop 12 points, it will be our fault.''

He smiled again and then added: ''I will make sure that we don't.

''I want to bring the championship here for these fans.''

Thompson described his goal as ''the most important I have scored in my life.''

He felt that over the two games, Celtic's discipline was the better and that had been a vital factor.

O'Neill agreed and paid tribute to his players for their self- control.

Rarely, very rarely, both managers called referee Hugh Dallas' display as ''excellent.'' He may need to read that sentence again, but it is the case, Hugh.

O'Neill insisted: ''I thought in terms of discipline we were excellent. I told my team before the game not to get involved with anything, which is easy for me to say.

''I warned them to stay clear of any trouble and emphasised how important it was to keep all the players on the field.

''I also have to say that Hugh Dallas was excellent and I spoke to him after the game to tell him so.''

Advocaat even went to the length of saying the referee was right when he turned down a penalty claim by his players. ''I felt he was excellent.''

I am sure I spotted a pig flying high over the Parkhead stand. But maybe not.