MARTIN O’NEILL’S first championship success – and Celtic’s thirty-seventh in their glorious history – was delivered EXACTLY 22 years ago today.
There were five games still to be played when St Mirren turned up at Parkhead to perform in front of a crowd of 60,440, the biggest in Scotland that season, in the forlorn hope of postponing Flag Day and the crowning of new champions in the Irishman’s first campaign in 2000/01.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, author Alex Gordon opens his book files once again to look back at an exciting and dramatic season in an edited extract from a chapter in his fifteenth Celtic publication, ‘50 Flags Plus One‘, which covers all of the team’s marvellous first 51 title triumphs.
JOHAN MJALLBY and Alan Thompson hit the woodwork, Henrik Larsson proved he was human by fluffing his final effort with just keeper Ludovic Roy to beat and a variety of other efforts flew high and wide.
It was left to Tommy Johnson, playing in place of the suspended Chris Sutton, to snatch the glory goal seven minutes from the interval.
The English striker, bought from Aston Villa by Tommy Burns for £2.4million in March 1997, recovered from a bad first touch from a Larsson pass to slot the ball away from the outrushing Roy to send the fans into a frenzy.
And how could blame them? The previous season, they had limped in 21 points behind Rangers.
THE JOY OF SIX…Martin O’Neill leaps with sheer delight as he watches Celtic thump Rangers 6-2 in his derby debut in August 2000.
Amazingly, Johnson, who was plagued by injury during his time in Glasgow, played for THREE other Hoops managers – Wim Jansen, Jozef Venglos and John Barnes – as well as Kenny Dalglish during his caretaker stint before the arrival of O’Neill.
Scoring the championship winner was undoubtedly his high spot at Celtic where he played just 35 league games and netted 18 goals.
As April came to a close, the celebrations continued. On the twenty-ninth of the month, Celtic would be asked to parade their skills at Ibrox.
It was party-time in Govan when Henrik Larsson scored his fiftieth goal of a spectacular season, Lubomir Moravcik claimed two excellent solo efforts, O’Neill’s team beat Rangers for the fourth time in five meetings – including a 3-1 success in the League Cup semi-final – and Celtic enjoyed success at Ibrox for the first time in seven years.
CROWNING GLORY…Tommy Johnson slots the ball past St Mirren keeper Ludovic Roy and two defenders for the title winner on April 7 2001.
BHOY OH BHOY…Henrik Larsson congratulates matchwinner Tommy Johnson.
The Premier League championship duly arrived in style with the total points tally of 97 setting a new record, seven better than the previous best. It was also won by 15 points from Rangers, a remarkable THIRTY-SIX point swing in a year.
O’Neill’s side already had the League Cup in the trophy cabinet following Larsson’s hat-trick in the 3-0 romp against Kilmarnock at Hampden on March 18. After the victory over St Mirren, Celtic were one step removed from their first domestic treble since the heady days of the legendary Jock Stein in 1969.
Hibs barred their way to the milestone, the Edinburgh side lying in wait after reaching the Scottish Cup Final which would bring down the season’s curtain at the national stadium on May 26. Henrik Larsson fired in a double after Jackie McNamara, an early replacement for the limping Lubo Moravcik, had got the ball rolling to record a successive three-goal Hampden showpiece celebration.
FLAG HAPPY IN PARADISE…Henrik Larsson and Ramon Vega celebrates the club’s 37th crown.
BHOY RACERS…Martin O’Neill gets out of the way and his players perform their title charge towards fans after the 1-0 success over St Mirren.
A delighted Larsson beamed: “We won the league early, then the CIS Insurance Cup and everyone had been going on about the treble and how much it would mean to the club. Now we can talk about it, Now there are no problems.
“This was the one I hadn’t won yet in Scotland. However, I’ve won it today and I’m very, very pleased.
“The second goal gave us a bit more breathing space and then we could sit back a little bit and try to pick them off. When we got the penalty-kick that was it finished.”