Old Firm set for another last-day title decider

By Andy BurkeBBC Scotland
Rangers and Celtic are separated by one point going into the final round of fixtures
Rangers and Celtic are separated by one point going into the final weekend

Rangers and Celtic go into Sunday's final Scottish Premier League fixtures with the championship crown still on the line.

The Ibrox side lead their old adversaries by just a single point and know a victory will allow Walter Smith to leave the club on a high with a third straight championship win.

Should they fail to win against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, Celtic could take the SPL trophy in Neil Lennon's first season as manager by defeating Motherwell at Parkhead.

Incredibly, this is the sixth time in 13 years that the Old Firm have taken the title race to the very last game.

Here is a look back at previous last day title deciders:

1997/98 season - Celtic win the league by two points

The last season of the old Scottish Premier Division was an enthralling one as Celtic and Rangers were joined in the hunt for the league championship by Jim Jefferies' Hearts.

The Tynecastle side went toe-to-toe with the Old Firm, and indeed were top of the table for much of the season, but their challenge faltered in the final weeks and they finished the campaign seven points back.

Rangers, in Smith's last season of his first spell in charge, were chasing a record-breaking 10th consecutive title. Wim Jansen was the man tasked by Celtic to stop the juggernaut in blue.

The two clubs were neck and neck over the course of the season. Rangers took the spoils in the opening Old Firm fixture of the season and took a point at Parkhead in their next clash.

Wim Jansen (left); Murdo Macleod (right)
Wim Jansen celebrates with MacLeod

Celtic secured an important victory in the New Year derby, but when Rangers put their rivals to the sword at Ibrox in April, it put Smith's men top on goal difference with just four games remaining.

Both sides dropped points in the run-in, and Rangers' shock reverse to Kilmarnock at Ibrox on the penultimate weekend of the season handed Celtic the chance to win the league at Dunfermline.

Celtic could not take advantage however, and a 1-1 draw at East End Park ensured the title race went down to the last day.

A nerve-shredding finale saw Rangers win 2-1 away to Dundee United to keep the pressure on Celtic.

At Parkhead, an early Henrik Larsson goal put the home side ahead but they struggled to find a second goal.

George O'Boyle missed a glaring chance for the Perth side that could have altered the destiny of the title race.

As it was, the much maligned Norwegian striker Harald Brattbakk scored to secure a first championship for Celtic in 10 years.

2002/03 season - Rangers win the league on goal difference

A more traditional two-horse race saw Martin O'Neill's Celtic slug it out with Alex McLeish's Rangers side.

The teams shared six goals in a thrilling draw at Celtic Park in the first Old Firm of the campaign, with Rangers winning the next meeting at Ibrox.

Celtic won the next two derbies, home and away, but following a thrilling run to the Uefa Cup final in Seville, the fixtures began to pile up at the end of the season.

Alex McLeish
Alex McLeish hails his SPL triumph

The two sides went into the final matches separated only by goal difference, so racking up a big score was the aim on the last day.

News filtered back and forth between Ibrox, where Rangers were playing Dunfermline, and Rugby Park, where Celtic were up against Kilmarnock, as both sets of supporters kept abreast of how their rivals were faring.

Celtic managed to hit four unanswered goals and Alan Thompson also failed with a penalty kick.

Rangers blitzed the Pars 6-1, with Mikel Arteta's penalty clinching the Premier League title by the narrowest of margins - one strike ahead of Celtic on goal difference.

2004/05 season - Rangers win the league by one point

Arguably the most dramatic end to a Scottish league season in history, as the title was decided not just on the final day, but in the final minute of the campaign.

Celtic had regained the title after the heartbreak of 2003, and across the city McLeish was trying to keep Rangers competitive amidst financial problems.

Celtic recorded their seventh straight Old Firm victory in the first clash of the season between the sides, but Rangers broke the sequence with a November win at Ibrox.

McLeish's men then smashed their Parkhead jinx in February, but January loan signing Craig Bellamy inspired Celtic to victory at Ibrox in April.

O'Neill's men were now odds on to become champions, but a 3-1 defeat at home to Hibernian allowed Rangers to remain in contention going into the last day.

Fernando Ricksen (left); Nacho Novo (right)
Ricksen and Novo on 'Helicopter Sunday'

Celtic were still two points clear and firm favourites for the title. A first-half Chris Sutton strike against Motherwell at Fir Park gave them one hand on the SPL trophy.

Meanwhile at Easter Road, a deflected Nacho Novo strike ensured Rangers defeated Hibs, but with Celtic ahead it would not be enough.

The Parkhead side were just two minutes from glory when Scott McDonald equalised.

Astonishingly, McDonald struck again a minute later to break Celtic hearts and hand Rangers the championship.

This day went down in history as "Helicopter Sunday" after the chopper carrying the SPL trophy changed path from Fir Park to Easter Road following McDonald's heroics.

Martin O'Neill resigned as Celtic manager shortly after the end of the season.

2007/08 season - Celtic win the league by three points

Gordon Strachan's Celtic side were chasing a third consecutive title, whilst Smith was looking to lead Rangers to their first championship since he replaced Paul le Guen in January 2007.

The 'Gers comprehensively defeated Celtic 3-0 in the opening derby at Ibrox. The next Old Firm was also a home match for Smith's men as the Parkhead fixture had to be rearranged to accommodate Rangers' packed schedule. Again Rangers prevailed, this time 1-0.

Two Old Firm clashes at Celtic Park in 11 days in April were to prove pivotal in the championship race, with the Hoops narrowly winning both, 2-1 and 3-2.

Gordon Strachan
Gordon Strachan lifts the SPL trophy

This allowed Celtic to claw back Rangers, who at one point had been seven points clear with a game in hand.

Rangers' run to the Uefa Cup final took its toll on the squad, and going into the last day Celtic were top by virtue of goal difference.

Celtic recorded a nervy win against Dundee United, with Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink heading the only goal of the game.

Rangers looked to be running on empty as a long season caught up with them, and they crashed 2-0 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Celtic won their third title in-a-row for the first time since 1974, and dedicated the league triumph to Parkhead legend Tommy Burns, who had died just a week before.

2008/09 season - Rangers win the league by four points

Having not won the SPL since 2005, Rangers were desperate to halt Celtic's run of success.

They struck a huge blow when they hammered Celtic 4-2 at Parkhead, but Strachan's side avenged that defeat in December at Ibrox.

A 0-0 stalemate was played out at Celtic Park before Rangers won the season's last Old Firm clash in May by a single goal.

Rangers squad
Rangers celebrate becoming champions

In a role reversal from the previous season, Celtic had at one stage held a seven-point lead over Rangers, only to squander their advantage in the closing weeks.

Smith's side were two points ahead of their rivals going into the last day decider - the second in two seasons.

There was no sign of nerves, however, as they comfortably dispatched Dundee United at Tannadice by three goals to nil.

Celtic could only draw 0-0 at home to Hearts and Rangers won their first championship for four years.

Celtic manager Strachan subsequently resigned at the end of the campaign.

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