Celtic FC sparked another night of celebration in Glasgow while at the same time crushing the hopes Liverpool FC had of winning the UEFA Cup for a second time in three seasons, by claiming a magnificent victory in the Anfield quarter-final second leg to go through 3-1 on aggregate.
Goals from an Englishman, Alan Thompson, and a Welshman, John Hartson, brought untold joy for the Scottish club who also put out another Premiership side, Blackburn Rovers FC, earlier in the competition. This was a better achievement because Liverpool had recently found a vein of winning form. And Celtic might have been at a low ebb having lost in the Scottish League Cup final to their great rivals Rangers FC on Sunday.
Hartson makes amends
Hartson missed a penalty in the dying minutes of that game. Tonight he gave a masterclass in centre-forward play, holding the ball up well and competing for everything. Then, eight minutes from time, he produced a magnificent finish to make the game safe after executing a one-two with Henrik Larsson.
Celtic manager Martin O'Neill described it as an "extraordinary" result. "It was hard for us early on, I just said to the players 'hang on'. They deserve all the credit in the world. Certainly we have a chance of going through to win the competition but all the sides left in are capable of beating us."
Back four 'superb'
Hartson was quick to share the plaudits afterwards, saying: "We limited them to very few chances and I thought the back four were superb again. I was devastated for the fans [after missing the penalty]. Tonight it was one of those that as I hit it, I knew it was in. You probably get one or two of them in your career."
Liverpool, slight favourites after the first leg ended 1-1, gave it their all and contributed fully to the fast and furious tempo. They threatened mostly from long range and only on one occasion after falling behind did they seriously question Celtic's initial advantage.
That had come from a free-kick in the final minute of the first half. Thompson struck it hard, low and true but he received valuable assistance by the readiness of the Liverpool defensive wall to jump off the ground, the ball passing beneath them and out of the reach of a static Jerzy Dudek.
End to end
Earlier, the Liverpool goalkeeper had gone full length to punch away Larsson's curling free-kick. Liverpool countered – it was that sort of game for an hour, first one end and then the other – and following Michael Owen's splendid run Emile Heskey could do no more than skew the ball well wide.
Steven Gerrard sent a couple of scorching drives towards goal as Liverpool kept up the pressure. One flew close, as did a similar salvo from Dietmar Hamann, while Robert Douglas tipped another from Gerrard over the top. Just before Hartson settled the issue Dudek was forced into an acrobatic stop when Larsson got his shoulder to a corner.
Liverpool almost found a way back into the tie in the 53rd minute when the tireless Gerrard for once got ahead of the ball and was well found by Owen. Fortunately for Celtic, Douglas had spotted the danger early, moved off his line in anticipation, and pulled off a crucial block.
Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier said he was "hurt" by the result. "It could have gone either way in the first half and their first goal was a turning point in the game," he said.