Rangers 2-0 Aberdeen (May 1991)
RANGERS have played in many classic matches through the years and in this new series of features we’ll remember some of the best.
When Graeme Souness resigned as Rangers manager with four games remaining in the 1990/91 season many supporters believed that the timing of his departure could not have been worse as Alex Smith’s impressive Aberdeen side were hot on their heels in the championship race.
With the season nearing it’s dramatic conclusion, Rangers Chairman David Murray immediately appointed Souness’ assistant Walter Smith to fill the breach and take Rangers through the remaining matches of the term.
Rangers won their first two games under Smith’s guidance against St. Mirren and Dundee United but, with the club struggling with debilitating injuries, lost their penultimate game at Fir Park, Motherwell.
This crucial result knocked Rangers back in to second place in the league with Aberdeen on top on goal difference.
In what proved to be one of the most exciting climaxes to a league season in Scottish football history, Aberdeen then had to travel to Ibrox on the final day of the season knowing that a draw would clinch the League Championship title.
Rangers, on the other hand, had to win to secure championship glory and, although they had the advantage of playing at home, Walter Smith’s team were playing a Dons side at the peak of their form.
Gers striker Mark Hateley, signed from Monaco at the start of the 1990/91 season, had had a tough start to his Rangers career as he struggled to impress the supporters who were convinced that he was a direct replacement for fans hero Ally McCoist.
However, the former AC Milan and Monaco forward secured his place in the hearts of the Rangers fans when he scored two sensational goals in the dramatic 2-0 victory over the Dons which gave Walter Smith a championship winning start to his tenure as manager of the club.
Hateley made his presence felt from the first whistle and found himself being man marked by none other than Rangers boss Alex McLeish for the 90 minutes.
With the tension reaching an almost unbearable level, Aberdeen had the first real chance of the match when midfielder Van de Ven broke through the Rangers defence but, with only Chris Woods to beat in the Rangers goal, he lofted the ball straight in to the keeper’s arms.
This miss proved to be a turning point in the match and Rangers were to take the lead through a brilliant Hateley header before half-time. Winger Mark Walters somehow produced an inch-perfect cross from the left-wing and Hateley rose majestically above McLeish to bullet the ball in to the roof of the net.
The striker then doubled his side’s in the second half when Dons keeper Michael Watt spilled a Mo Johnston shot giving Hateley the easiest of tap-ins to clinch the championship in front of a jubilant Rangers support.
It was the perfect end to his first season in Scotland that was as exciting as it was unpredictable.
Hateley looks back fondly on the match and believes it is a day that he will never forget. He said: “My first season at Ibrox was incredible but the game against Aberdeen is without doubt one of the greatest moments in my career.
“It was a very strange season as we were eight points clear at one stage and should have had the league wrapped up well before the last game.
“The squad was down to the bare bones after injuries to Ally McCoist, Richard Gough, Trevor Steven and Oleg Kuznetsov then Graeme Souness left to join Liverpool with less than a month of the season left.
“We were still favourites to pick up the league title when we faced Motherwell in the our second last match but we were minging and ended up losing 3-0. Mark Walters even missed a penalty.
“So it went down to the last game and we had to beat Aberdeen to lift the title – we did like to keep things exciting!
“We only had 12 fit players for the match and it got worse when Tom Cowan and John Brown both went off on a stretcher.
“Bomber had even taken a an injection just to make the match in the first place and towards the end of the game Terry Hurlock as left-back as we were so short.
“Despite these setbacks our mental strength was unbelievable and we didn’t doubt for a minute that we would win the game.
“We went right at them from the first whistle and Mo Johnston booted someone early on and I told Gary Stevens to hang his crosses under the bar.
“When the ball came in I bashed in to their keeper Michael Watt to let him know what sort of afternoon he was going to have.
“We stamped our authority on the game and, although they missed a few early chances, as soon as we scored there was only going to be one winner.
“I was delighted to score the opening goal as it was so important to take the lead. I have spoken to Alex before about the goal and he insists he had a shout from the keeper and that was why he didn’t jump!
“The second goal was a tap-in but I think Watt spilled the ball for the second because of the earlier challenge when I hammered him.
“As soon as Mo’s shot came in I was following it up and the keeper saw me in the corner of his eye.
“He knew that even if he gathered it safely he was still going to get clattered and he wasn’t fully focused and dropped it.
“That goal finished the match as a contest and it was a great end to the season on such a high. The atmosphere after the game was incredible and it was a day that I am sure every Rangers fan will never forget.”
RANGERS: Woods, Stevens, Nisbet, Brown (McCoist), Cowan (Durrant), Hurlock, Spackman, Ferguson, Walters, Hateley, Johnston
ABERDEEN: Watt, Wright, McKimmie, McLeish, Robertson, Grant, Van de Ven, Bett, Simpson, Gillhaus, Jess
Rangers 2:0 Aberdeen
Scorers – Hateley 2
May 11 1991.