The Season Book Years – 2009/10
Continuing the season book years series, remember that the one rule I set myself here was that I could only pick a game that was on the season book that I actually went to. As such, they’re all home league games. I might mention other games from that season to put it into the context of the season, but the main focus will be on that one home league game. So, with that in mind…
Celtic 2-1 Rangers.
Naylor 8, Fortune 45. Miller 43.
The Gordon Strachan era had ended quietly, and disappointingly, as the man who lead Celtic to their first three in a row since Jock Stein couldn’t carry on the run to a fourth. Out went Strachan and in came Tony Mowbray.
Now, if you’ve been reading these blogs then you’ll know that I highly rated Mowbray after his tactical brilliance against Martin O’Neill in 2005. What came next, however, was an utter shambles of a season for Celtic.
It was pretty evident that Strachan’s team needed freshened up, but Mowbray took his time to get those changes in place. For the first few months, Celtic staggered towards the January transfer window hoping just to keep in touch with Rangers. The League Cup was lost at home to Hearts in that period, while a 4-2 defeat at Ibrox was disappointing given we had been undeservedly 2-1 up at half time and still couldn’t hang on to it. The Celtic Park game at New Year was even worse though, as a 1-1 draw was thoroughly undeserved given Marc Antoine Fortune had scored a perfectly good goal only for it to be chalked off for absolutely no challenge on Allan McGregor.
But the biggest problem for Mowbray was when that long sought after transfer window finally came.
Out went a number of Strachan’s players, more so than many expected or even wanted, and in came some of Mowbray’s. One of the more notable incoming players was Morten Rasmussen… who was almost immediately bumped out of favour when the last ditch loan signing of Robbie Keane had big crowds down at Celtic Park to welcome him.
Of course, defeat at Rugby Park the following night didn’t help keep the mood high for long. It was downhill from there too as the new signings just didn’t work. Changing so much of the team mid-season was never going to be a good idea on it’s own, but for that to have had even half a chance it needed more than just Robbie Keane to show something and that never happened. Mowbray was gone after a humiliating 4-0 defeat at new St Mirren Park where the Celtic manager had looked lost on the bench as St Mirren ran over the top of his team. So much for the tactical brilliance.
But then up stepped Neil Lennon.
Lennon took a misfiring team and went on to win every single one of the league matches that followed, reducing Rangers eventual second title in a row winning margin to just six points. The only blot on the interim manager’s record was a Scottish Cup semi final defeat to Ross County where the players reminded us just how they had managed to be so bad to get Mowbray sacked in the first place – and why whoever the permanent manager was going to be the following season was going to have another big clear out of his own in the summer. Nevertheless, that left Celtic trophyless for the first time since 2002/03, and there was no UEFA Cup run to Seville to mask that fact this time.
One of the most important games in that league run though was the final game against Rangers. Celtic hadn’t managed to beat Rangers all season, and that hadn’t happened in Celtic history since the 1990s. So even though Rangers had already clinched the title, there was now a point or two to prove.
It didn’t take long to get going, as a Lee Naylor free kick found its way into the Rangers net in the opening ten minutes. Another man who has scored as many goals in Celtic v Rangers games as the “legendary” Kris Boyd. Although Kenny Miller, now back at Rangers for a second spell, managed to level the game just before half time it wasn’t enough as Fortune restored Celtic’s lead before the half time whistle. There was no referee’s whistle to save the Rangers goalkeeper this time.
The second half wasn’t great, and saw Artur Boruc being subbed off injured in what turned out to be his final game for Celtic. He walked off the park to the acclaim of the Celtic support and to the derision of the Rangers support. Artur lapped it all up, and even showed off some weird picture he’d drawn on his belly, winding up the Rangers fans further. Curiously it was the second goalkeeping substitution since Allan McGregor had lasted all of five minutes in the first half and Neil Alexander was the man to concede both goals.
The rest of the half was pretty much a game of which player could miss the most, as the like of Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady all missed decent chances. But that award probably has to go to Kenny Miller who hit the post late on. There was even a second booking for Lee McCulloch for clattering Aiden McGeady, just to please us a little more as Elbows walked.
Nevertheless, for all the second half wasn’t a classic, it was still a win for Celtic and a marker for the season to come. After an appallingly bad season, one most of us would probably rather forget with very few memorable games to cling to, we all knew what this win meant.
Celtic would be back.
Addendum: it was pointed out to me that there was a very strange incident at half time in this game. Before every game, the police signal is broadcast so we all know what to listen out for in case of an emergency.
It went off at half time.
And no one moved.
No one was quite sure what was happening despite the call for an evacuation. In all the time I’ve been going to the football I’ve never heard it before or since. But here we were, and everyone was looking at each other wondering if it was real. To this day I don’t know what happened, but the fact the stewards and the police never moved either was enough for me not to worry that I was anything more than a false alarm.