Liverpool won the 'Battle of Britain,' but it was brave, battling Celtic that won the acclaim.
The men from Glasgow, written off for the second leg of this UEFA Cup clash, gave Liverpool the fright of their lives. It was Celtic who produced the pride, passion and fire, and they will look back to the very last minute of the first game at Parkhead as the moment they lost their dream of progress in Europe.
It was that wonderful Steve McManaman goal that night that really condemned Celtic to overall defeat. If they had held on then to a 2-1 lead, this result would have been good enough. As it was it was the Celtic fans at the end who were acclaiming their side and roaring their approval of Rangers' exit from the same competition at Ibrox as Liverpool tried to put a brave face on it all.
It was Celtic who almost clinched the tie with just 11 minutes left. Henrik Larsson had held off three men on a left wing charge, crossed low to the near post, and little Simon Donnelly slid in to send his shot inches wide. Donnelly, at the other end six minutes later, kicked a goalbound Karlheinz Riedle header off the line, but that was about the best chance the Merseysiders produced all night. They had looked uncertain, lacking in decisive passing from midfield, andvulnerable to pace on the counterattack.
As it is, Liverpool now move rather sheepishly into the next round. But the noise of Celtic's fans roaring in their ears long after they had left the pitch, told you who had emerged with most pride.
The atmosphere was as electric as it had been at Parkhead a fortnight previous, a superb rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone sung by both sets of fans before the game, had the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
Celtic had come with no intention of being rolled over. They were organised, dogged and effective-with the quick raiding of Simon Donnelly and Henrik Larsson a constant threat.
It is fair to say, too, that Liverpool's composure was not helped by one of those wayward, indecisive displays of goalkeeping that David James must surely have hoped he had left behind last season.
Celtic were injury ravaged too. Darren Jackson, Andreas Thom, Regi Blinker, Tommy Johnson and Phil O'Donnell were all missing, with Tommy Boyd suspended. Liverpool had Rob Jones back from injury, but their injury list was also extensive. No Mark Wright, Jamie Redknapp or Oyvind Leonhardsen, with Steve Harkness and Michael Thomas only fit enough for the bench.
Celtic set about taking the sting out of Liverpool's early attacks, and they had some success. Steve McManaman was tightly marked, mainly by Jackie McNamara, Enrico Annoni did a solid stifling job on Robbie Fowler and Stephane Mahe followed Michael Owen all over the park.
Alan Stubbs got himself booked for a slashing tackle on Owen after 20 minutes, with Liverpool having considerable possession but failing to produce the killer ball.
The first instance of James' uncertainty came after 20 minutes when he advanced to the edge of the area to field a long cross from the left from Tosh McKinlay. Admittedly Stig Bjornebye got in his way, but James badly fumbled the ball, and Donnelly hung his head in shame after hooking over an open goal as confusion reigned.
McManaman with a rising shot from 18 yards was about all that Liverpool could muster.
While at the other end Larsson, cruelly abused by the Kop for his part in the 'dive' which produced Celtic's penalty at Parkhead, rose superbly to crash a header inches over from McKinlay's free kick. After 28 minutes, Celtic reckoned they deserved a penalty when Bjornebye charged down a point blank shot from Morten Wieghorst. Celtic surrounded German referee Edgar Steinborn, but he steadfastly refused to consult his linesman.
McManaman, on one of those now familiar snaking runs from deep, cut across two defenders and forced Jonathan Gould to make a fine save.
The tension, pace and noise were jacked up several notches in the second half, but still Celtic were more than holding their own. At times their high speed passing stretched Liverpool to the limits.
But the Merseysiders were beginning to push Celtic back. Paul Ince surged forward and lashed a shot over the bar, and both Owen and Ince found themselves the other side of their markers to crack efforts inches wide. But Celtic were giving almost as good as they got. Stubbs sent a towering header over James' bar from a David Hannah free kick. The former Bolton star was lucky not to be sent off soon after when he caught Owen at full pace. Amazingly the referee did not even give a free kick as the Kop howled its disgust. Stubbs, having already been booked, was very lucky to escape.
Patrik Berger and Bjornebye both saw shots sail over, but Liverpool were struggling desperately to create anything constructive in the box. And at the other end, James continued to unnerve his defence, sloppily palming down a Donnelly header when he should surely have caught the ball.
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