Introducing a new feature on the site, ‘days of Celtic past’, where we look at memorable Celtic matches on the anniversary of the game or in the lead up to a game against a familiar opponent. We start the series by marking the 17th anniversary of a great Celtic win in Europe.
Celtic’s second round UEFA Cup tie with Blackburn Rovers was always going to be a memorable one. It offered a Scottish team a chance to pit their wits against an English one. Added to that, Blackburn were managed by former Rangers boss Graeme Souness. That added more drama to the fixture, if it even needed it.
The Celtic team selected by Martin O’Neill to face Blackburn on the 31st of October 2002 in the first leg of the tie contained players who had seen and done it all in Scotland.
Deadly strike duo up-front
Current Hoops manager Neil Lennon teamed up with Paul Lambert in the middle of the park, whilst the deadly strike force of Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton were bound to cause Blackburn problems.
As for the English side, they featured the likes of former Rangers midfielder Tugay, Champions League winner Dwight Yorke, and current Celtic coach Damien Duff.
The game might have been expected to start slowly. But the Hoops almost took the lead early on when a Stan Petrov header was saved by Brad Fridel.
Unfortunately, that was the only chance created for Celtic in a long spell, as Blackburn dominated possession. They didn’t create that many clear-cut chances. But Rab Douglas did well to deny David Thompson and David Dunn.
Star man had ideas to win the game
As the game entered the last five minutes, it looked like the match was going to end goalless. However, as he often did, Henrik Larsson had other ideas.
A John Hartson header was cleared off the line, but Larsson was on hand to force home the rebound in the 86th minute. The Hoops held on for what must have been a sweet victory against the former Rangers boss. The final score 1-0 to the Hoops, a slender advantage to take into the second leg.
Of course, the game is remembered for comments made after the game by Blackburn boss Souness. He claimed that the game had been like ‘men against boys‘.
Those comments would come back to haunt the Blackburn boss after the second leg of the tie, but that is a story for another day. The win still evokes good memories for the Celtic support. It was even commented on by the Celtic Twitter account. Hopefully the Hoops will have a chance to make more memories in Europe in the years to come.