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Green & Whitewash as Sutton celebrates many happy returns

Twenty years ago Celtic fans celebrated a classic strike from Chris Sutton as the goal hero enjoyed the eighth birthday of his son Ollie.

In a season of dominance with the SPL title clinched at Kilmarnock on April 18 there was one issue still to be resolved among the dead-rubbers.

Led by the soon to depart Henrik Larsson Celtic were in incredible form after getting the season off to a false start with a goal-less draw away to Dunfermline.

Winning the title nice and early meant that the seasoned petered out with a series of dead-rubbers but on May 8 Alex McLeish brought his side across the city determined to avoid a fifth derby defeat of the season.

The Rangers boss was able to call on Frank de Boer, Mikel Arteta, Stefan Klos and Michael Mols, all players that wouldn’t be anywhere near Ibrox if it wasn’t the secretive Trust’s set up by Dave Murray that he claimed weren’t liable to Income Tax and National insurance.

Martin O’Neill sent the following team: David Marshall, Jackie McNamara, Bobo Balde, Stan Varga; Didier Agathe, Neil Lennon, Stan Petrov, Stephen Pearson, Alan Thompson; Sutton and Larsson.

It was a grim battle with barely a chance at either end, Celtic lacked the sparkle that they had shown to run away with the title but the clean sweep was starting to look elusive.

Among the usual anthems of hate from the away support they started to sense a moral victory worthy of celebration when David Marshall decided to launch a high ball in the final minute of the match.

Sutton knocked the clearance towards Larsson and spun off into space with the ball returned by his partner in crime, de Boer was pushed aside as if he didn’t exist before Sutton pinged a brilliant lob over Klos before setting off on an iconic celebration.

In the Daily Mail the goal hero recalled:

I scored for Celtic 2003-04 season on the 8th of May, my son Ollie’s birthday. We’d beaten Rangers every game that season.

A good Rangers team back then, 92 minutes on the clock. It wasn’t the best of games and I ended up chipping Stefan Klos from – it always gets further out – 35 yards in the end to win the game.

It was called the green and whitewash season because we’d beaten them every game. A wonderful goal from me.

It had been an epic season for Celtic as Larsson said farewell in style with the domestic pain of the previous season brushed aside with two trophies won, plus an aggregate victory over Barcelona alongside some epic Champions League victories over Lyon and Anderlecht alongside the usual heartbreak that that competition brings.

The first Glasgow Derby didn’t take place until October 4, Celtic went across the city without the suspended Bobo Balde which forced Sutton into defence alongside Varga and McNamara in front of Magnus Hedman, making his debut in the fixture.

Celtic had beaten Lyon in style in the midweek but at Ibrox it was a case of scrapping for everything, two minutes into the second half a cross from John Hartson took a touch of Zurab Khizanishvili and spun over Klos into the net.

Sutton was majestic in the centre of defence, Mols and Shota Arveladze barely got a look in as a significant step was taken towards the title with a statement win at Ibrox.

Chris Sutton, Martin O'Neill

On January 3 Celtic had already built up a nine point lead at the top of the SPL with McLeish’s side floundering as they crossed the city for a match that they had to win to keep a title challenge going into the new year. They failed miserably.

O’Neill was able to call on Sutton, Hartson and Larsson, strangely none of them were on the scoresheet but that didn’t upset anyone as Celtic ran out 3-0 winners.

Petrov opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a teasing shot that struck both posts before arching behind Klos.

After the break Celtic ought to have scored a few more but that didn’t take away any of the shine from goals scored by Varga and Thompson as the countdown got underway towards claiming another SPL title.

On March 7 the Scottish Cup draw sent Rangers back to Celtic Park, this time Sutton and Hartson were missing through injury with Pearson pushed forward to partner Larsson in attack.

Eight minutes into the second half Larsson struck the only goal of the game, the match was nothing to write home about but with the title looking a formality the season could be finished in style with a Scottish Cup victory.

Four days later Thompson scored the only goal of the game to set up an epic victory over Barcelona.

Ibrox on March 28 followed three days after the goal-less draw in the Nou Camp, there was a little talk about a clean sweep of Derby victories but it isn’t often that Celtic win twice in a season at Ibrox.

Fixture specialists Larsson and Thompson had Celtic in front early in the second half, Steven Thompson finally gave the home fans a goal to celebrate but at the final whistle the visitors had three more points with just a home post-split fixture between O’Neill’s side and a clean sweep of five Derby victories in a season.

It took until the 90th minute for Sutton to secure that match, 20 years later it is still being celebrated with the matchwinner never shy about reminding his media colleagues about his place in history.

CLICK HERE for Celtic fans celerate in Santa Ponsa.

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