Celtic triumphed yesterday in one of the most extraordinary Old Firm games in history. And they did so with style as they wiped away the miseries which had hung around the club after seven games in succession without a victory against their oldest, and most

deadly, rivals.

The victory, in itself, delighted the Celtic support and their new manager, Martin O'Neill, but the size of the win, and the manner in which it was achieved, must have been even more satisfying.

Because suddenly everyone in Scotland - and even beyond our borders - will realise there is a serious challenge ahead to a Rangers side which walked off with the title last season.

That is not going to happen this year. On the evidence of this game Celtic have already made serious progress under O'Neill's guidance and all this result can do is raise their level of confidence.

Even with the new man in charge - and that is always something which lifts any team - Celtic must have entered the game with some degree of trepidation. Since the 5-1 win over the Ibrox men in Dick Advocaat's first Old Firm game, they had not been able to record a victory, and last season three defeats and one draw in the Glasgow derby games saw them unable to mount any decent attempt to win the championship.

Of course, they were able to banish that from their minds after just a minute's play when Chris Sutton, making his Old Firm debut, scored with his first touch - a low, angled shot - to send a surge of adrenalin through the Celtic support and galvanise his team-mates.

It was the start O'Neill must have dreamed of, but could not have expected to happen.

That must have had a settling effect on Celtic and it also gave the first indication that another of the game's debutants, Rangers' Fernando Ricksen, was not going to impose himself on the match in any positive sense.

It was a clumsy challenge by the Dutchman on his countryman, Bobby Petta, which resulted in a corner on the left. When the ball was swung into goal by Lubomir Moravcik it broke from the Rangers' defence towards the edge of the penalty box. Henrik Larsson prodded the ball forward and the lanky Englishman reached it and struck a low shot into the far

corner of the net.

Lorenzo Amoruso appealed for offside and later, slow motion television pictures suggested that the striker was indeed in an offside position when the forward pass was played. Still, as Old Firm managers are wont to say, these decisions do even themselves out over the season.

Minutes later, Billy Dodds headed a ball across the Celtic goal from a Giovanni van

Bronckhorst pass when he might have equalised. That proved a

serious miss for the Ibrox men.

In eight minutes, Celtic scored a second, and this time there were no question marks about the goal - except perhaps those Advocaat will ask of his defenders. No-one was there when another corner from Moravcik swept across the penalty box and Stilian Petrov ducked low to direct a header beyond Stefan Klos to push Celtic into a commanding position.

After Jackie McNamara blocked a Tony Vidmar header just short of the goal line in 12

minutes, Celtic went upfield immediately to punish Rangers still further.

This time Moravcik accepted a pass from Petta, dragged the ball to the byeline and then struck a cut-back into the path of Paul Lambert who snapped in a shot from 20 yards which whipped past Klos.

Klos then came off his line to save at Larsson's feet as Rangers seemed unable to stem the tide of attacks which swept down on them as the Celtic fans celebrated.

However, Advocaat sent on Tugay for Ricksen, moved Vidmar to right back and van Bronckhorst to left back, and somehow

steadied the ship.

Paul Lambert limped off in 36 minutes with Johan Mjallby

taking over, and that, too, assisted Rangers. Five minutes before half time, Neil McCann sent Rod

Wallace off down the left. The Englishman fought off a challenge from Alan Stubbs, sent in a deep cross and Claudio Reyna was there at the far post to head down for goal.

Jonathan Gould got to the ball, but dragged it over the line and the goal was given. Rangers now had a brief glimpse of hope.

It might have lasted a little longer if a strike from Wallace, which eluded Gould and dropped into the far corner of the net, had been allowed to stand. But the linesman flagged for offside and, while television again suggested otherwise, the goal was


Five minutes into the second half, Henrik Larsson did what he had been threatening to do earlier in the game, and scored. He reached a clearance from Gould, moved clear of Tugay and Bert Konterman and then lobbed the ball over Klos.

Four minutes more and Rangers scored again when Stephane Mahe brought down Wallace. Billy Dodds converted the spot kick, but again Celtic displayed a new found resilience by scoring a fifth in 62 minutes. Again it was Larsson, this time with a header from a Bobby Petta free kick on the right.

Even then this game was not over. Barry Ferguson was

cautioned in 74 minutes for a foul on Petrov and then, nine minutes from time, after deliberately

handling the ball, he saw his

second yellow card, and a red, from referee Stuart Dougal.

Rangers did come close on a couple of occasions but the coup de grace came from Sutton when he was lurking at the far side of the six yards' line and able to stab the ball into goal after Mahe whipped in a low cross.

As well as Ferguson being in trouble, there were yellow cards for Dodds, McCann, and Reyna, while Celtic had cautions for Moravcik, Jackie McNamara and second half substitute, Tom Boyd.

There was rarely any nastiness in the game, though Ferguson's petulant reaction to that red card was out of step with the rest of the 90 minutes.

Beforehand, Advocaat may have tempted the fates by making reference to the 5-1 defeat he suffered in his own Old Firm debut as he attempted to stress that one result does not make, or break, a season.

This result was as comprehensive as that 5-1 win by Celtic but, again, it will not decide the championship. O'Neill recognises that just as Advocaat does.

What it does tell us is that there is going to be a formidable

challenge from the Parkhead team this time round. This victory has given Rangers a warning that they will not be allowed to have things their own way any longer.

Sure, Celtic had some of the breaks yesterday, but that happens and these pieces of good fortune cannot be allowed to take away from a performance which destroyed a Rangers' defence in which there was a lack of understanding, a factor which Advocaat will surely examine in his post mortem.

For O'Neill, of course, there are fewer worries and not many Celtic managers have enjoyed such an incredible Old Firm debut victory as this.