In an astonishing contest, which was indicative of the character and spirit that Alex McLeish has injected into the team, the Ibrox men were worthy winners by refusing to lie down.

They were hungrier, they were more inventive and ultimately they were more clinical as McLeish savoured the greatest moment of his 29-game Rangers career and Rangers produced their best Cup Final performance since their Centenary win over Celtic by the same scoreline in 1973.

It was the first time in nine years and 41 matches between these sides that the team going behind came back to win which is another indication of how great this Hampden triumph was.

There were stunning perfomers throughout the side, most notably Barry Ferguson, Neil McCann, Fernando Ricksen and Peter Lovenkrands, but they all deserved it for their sheer guts and ambition to become winners again.

Lucky charm Lovenkrands continued his remarkable form against Celtic with two strikes and the winning goal will stay with the young Dane for the rest of his life. That’s five against Celtic this season!

The new era at Rangers has undoubtedly begun and although this triumph will be celebrated for some time to come there is no doubt it is a marker for what lies ahead.

McLeish must have wondered if it was simply not going to be his day when he lost Caniggia after just 17 minutes of the contest and then went behind against the run of play before he could make a substitution.

The Argentinian veteran had looked right in the mood. His touches were excellent and he was a major threat to Celtic.

Recognising this fact, Chris Sutton cynically took him out of the game about 35 yards out on the right side and Caniggia crumpled to the turf in agony after the impact of the challenge had forced his left knee to twist.

Rangers were awarded a free kick but could do nothing with it and within a minute, Celtic won a corner at the other end when Hartson took a pass from Balde and forced Stefan Klos to claw the ball over the bar.

Thompson swung the ball over and Balde won it in the air, seemingly unimpeded, and knocked a header down which bounced up perfectly for Hartson who headed the ball into the net from five yards.

It was a killer blow to Rangers as they made most of the running to this point, moving the ball cleverly and testing the powerful but often static Celtic defence.

Amoruso had headed over the bar from Ferguson’s free kick in just two minutes while McCann tried his luck from a set piece in eight minutes after Thompson had fouled Ricksen but while his effort flew up and over the wall it also flew up and over the bar.

So to come back so quickly by equalising in the 21st minute was admirable and also an indication of the character and spirit McLeish has injected into the side.

Fittingly, it was inspirational skipper Ferguson who created the opportunity by picking out Lovenkrands on the right side of the Celtic box.

Mjallby and Sutton seemed to leave the ball for each other and Lovenkrands did not waste any time moving the ball onto his left foot and slamming a sensational drive into the right corner for a brilliant equaliser.

The deadly Dane just can’t stop scoring against Celtic and he leapt for joy as he claimed his fourth goal in five games against the Parkhead men.

But there was more to come, MUCH more.

Remarkably, Rangers were still down to 10 men when Lovenkrands struck but McLeish made the switch immediately afterwards when it became clear that Caniggia could not continue and Shota Arveladze was brought on as a straight swap.

The game had swung back in their favour and they swarmed over Celtic again, coming close to taking the lead in 23 minutes. Ricksen picked out Lovenkrands in the box and he connected with his left foot but Douglas was equal to the volley.

A minute later Numan sent a stinging shot just over the top after good work from de Boer. Then in 31 minutes Celtic were opened up again when Lovenkrands played in McCann on the left side.

The Rangers winger drove the ball across the face of the goal but it was just too strong for Arveladze at the back post. Had the delivery been better it was a certain goal and McLeish was obviously concerned that Rangers were not taking their chances when they had the upper hand.

Having said that, Rangers did look susceptible at set pieces such is Celtic’s aerial strength and they suffered a second rabbit punch just three minutes into the second half from exactly this kind of scenario.

Lorenzo Amoruso was booked for bringing down Henrik Larsson on the left side of the box and Celtic made Rangers pay. Neil Lennon whipped over the free kick and Balde rose unchallenged to direct a header past Klos.

Lesser sides might have capitulated but McLeish’s men are made of sterner stuff and they came roaring back into the game and twice came desperately close to equalising before finally levelling with one of the great Hampden final goals, suitably scored by the tireless and hugely influential captain in 68 minutes.

Amoruso had headed McCann’s cross wide in 53 minutes when he might have done better and the Ferguson crashed a fabulous shot off the right post in 63 minutes with Douglas well beaten and again McLeish must have wondered if the gods were going to be against him.

Not a bit of it. Balde cumbersomely brought down Amoruso just outside the box five minutes later and the captain took responsibility.

With quite breath-taking technique, Ferguson curled a superb right foot shot from the dead ball which flew into the left corner and then ripped his shirt off before jumping over the advertising hoardings to celebrate in front of the Rangers end.

It was everything Rangers deserved, but they were hungry for more and they hammered Celtic for the last 20 minutes, using every ounce of energy to get their hands on the trophy.

Somehow the Parkhead men managed to stand firm as Rangers hit them with wave after wave of attack. Mjallby even cleared Ricksen’s effort off the line in 82 minutes after Douglas had dropped McCann’s cross and everyone inside Hampden held their breath.

Fourth official Kenny Clark indicated there were to be two minutes of injury time and it seemed certain that the two sides would need to go into extra time.

There were strong claims for a Rangers penalty when Mjallby floored Lovenkrands but it was not given and again Rangers must have wondered it the Cup was ever going to be won.

However, in an astonishing finale Lovenkrands won it with 10 seconds of the game remaining when he guided a header past Douglas after McCann’s superb cross from the left side and the Rangers fans went berserk.

It was a fitting end to a fantastic final and the significance of it must be considerable as McLeish prepares for next season with such a massive shot in the arm.

CELTIC: Douglas; Balde, Sutton, Mjallby; Agathe, Lennon, Petrov, Lambert (McNamara 44), Thompson; Hartson, Larsson. Subs not used – Gould, Boyd, Moravcik, Guppy.

Bookings: Balde (30), Hartson (48), Lennon (74)

RANGERS: Klos; Ross, Moore, Amoruso, Numan; de Boer, Ricksen, Ferguson; Caniggia (Arveladze 21), Lovenkrands, McCann. Subs not used – McGregor, Vidmar, Nerlinger, Flo.

Bookings: Amoruso (49), Moore (72)

Ref: Hugh Dallas.

Att: 51,138.

Man of the match: Barry Ferguson

Moment of the match: What do you think? Lovenkrands’ sensational last-gasp winner.

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