Vol. 4 Num 218 Mon. January 05, 2004  

Scottish Premier League
Thompson inspires Celtic

Celtic took an enormous stride towards regaining the Scottish premier league title when they beat their only real rivals Rangers 3-0 on Saturday to open an 11-point lead.

The victory was secured by Stilian Petrov's 19th-minute diving header, which trickled over the line after bouncing off both posts, another header by Stanislav Varga after an hour and Alan Thompson's stunning 84th-minute free kick.

It was Celtic's second Glasgow derby success of the season -- they won 1-0 at Ibrox in October -- and although the campaign is only at the halfway point it makes them odds-on favourites to reclaim the championship after Rangers pipped them on the last day of last season.

It was also a club record 18th successive league win for Celtic -- a run starting after they drew their opening game of the season with Dunfermline -- beating the 17 set by Jock Stein's European Cup-winning side in 1968.

Celtic now have 55 points from 19 games with Rangers a distant second on 44 and they were rightful winners of an absorbing Old Firm encounter.

Rangers goalkeeper Stefan Klos produced an outstanding block to deny Bobo Balde as Celtic dominated the opening exchanges.

But Celtic were rewarded after 19 minutes when Henrik Larsson floated a neat cross deep into the box and although the excellent Klos tipped Petrov's header onto his right hand post the ball spun back across the line.

The home side continued to turn the screw after halftime and Larsson had a volley crash off the post from Thompson's free kick. From the ensuing Thompson corner Balde headed the ball back across goal and Varga leapt highest to nod into the net.

Thompson piled on the misery for Rangers when he curled a free kick beyond Klos with six minutes remaining.

Shota Arveladze cracked a shot against the crossbar late on as the visitors, who have now won only one of the past 12 Old Firm league meetings, failed to even grab a consolation.