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Celtic stun Gers with late winner

SoccerNews in Scottish Premier League 16 Apr 2008

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Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's sensational injury-time header handed Celtic a crucial 2-1 win at home to Rangers on Wednesday to keep them in the Scottish Premier League title race.

The Ibrox side looked to have secured a 1-1 draw after their Spanish substitute Nacho Novo cancelled out Japanese international Shunsuke Nakamura's stunning first half opener.

Celtic's chances of victory looked slim when Scott McDonald missed a 70th minute penalty – after Carlos Cuellar had handled on the line to prevent Nakamura's shot finding the net.

But with leaders Rangers down to 10 men, after Cuellar was shown a straight red card for his hand ball, Dutch striker Vennegoor of Hesselink pounced in the 93rd minute to win all three points for Celtic.

The result takes Gordon Strachan's second-placed side to within a point of their arch Glasgow rivals – although Rangers have two games in hand.

Vennegoor of Hesselink told Setanta television: “It was like Ibrox (where Celtic lost 1-0), but it didn't go for us. Today maybe we had a bit of luck in the end but I think we deserved it.

“It may be last minute but it can't be sweeter,” the Dutch striker added. “The gap is still there but I think they can feel the pressure a little bit.”

Rangers manager Walter Smith, whose side are chasing a quadruple of three domestic trophies and the UEFA Cup this season, was pleased by the way in which his men persevered after a poor start.

“We're holding out thought we'd get a point which would be a good one under the circumstances,” the former Scotland manager said.

“We had to defend, we did so brilliantly until the last few seconds.”

Celtic had not beaten their Old Firm rivals for 19 months but they dominated the early exchanges and in the 20th minute they took a deserved lead in stunning fashion.

There seemed to be little danger when Nakamura collected the ball 35-yards from goal.

However the Japanese has proved how dangerous he can be in big games before and drilled a spectacular left-foot shot which curled away from Allan McGregor, the Rangers goalkeeper into the top corner of the net.

Rangers nearly levelled on the stroke of half-time with their first real chance.

Steven Whittaker slid the ball through to Jean-Claude Darcheville but the Frenchman seemed to lose his balance allowing Celtic captain Stephen McManus to make a last gasp block.

At half time Rangers replaced defender Kirk Broadfoot with Spanish forward Novo to try and change the balance of the game, while Celtic's left-back Lee Naylor was forced off with an injury to be replaced by Mark Wilson.

Celtic, though, were still looking more likely to the second goal of the match and after a good passing move McDonald fired a shot over from 18-yards. But in the 55th minute Rangers's half-time substitute levelled the score.

An attempted clearance by Celtic substitute Wilson fell to Steven Whittaker, his first time pass released Novo and he fired a fine right-foot shot into the opposite corner of the net beyond Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

In the 69th minute Celtic were denied a second when Nakamura's shot beat McGregor and headed towards the roof of the net until Cuellar handled on the line.

Referee Kenny Clark pointed to the penalty spot and showed Cuellar a straight red card.

However Celtic top goalscorer McDonald spurned the opportunity to give his side the lead, when his weak effort was touched on to the post by McGregor.

In the 78th minute Rangers were forced into a change when goalkeeper McGregor hobbled off with an ankle injury to be replaced by Neil Alexander.

The Ibrox side looked to be holding out for a point which would almost certainly have secured them the SPL title but in the 93rd minute Celtic scored a sensational winner.

Gary Caldwell flighted a cross into the box, McDonald headed the ball across the face of goal and Vennegoor of Hesselink nodded home from close range.

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