13 SEPT 1997 MOTHERWELL 2-3 CELTIC
When Wim Jansen took over as Celtic’s ‘Head Coach’ in the summer of 1997, he made it a priority to purchase a class centre half in order to assist stopping the Rangers’ juggernaut of going for ten league titles in a row.
In early September Jansen purchased West Ham’s Danish centre half, Marc Reiper, for a fee of £1.7M in an attempt to bolster a Celtic defence which had looked decidedly rocky since the season’s start. The Dane was then thrown straight in to the deep end to make his debut without even having a day’s training with his new team mates as Jansen took a slight gamble.
Jansen’s intention was to pair Reiper in central defence with Celtic’s expensive English import, Alan Stubbs. In only three minutes Stubbs was criminally short with a pass back which allowed ex Celt, Tommy Coyne, to nip in smartly to put ‘Well one up, showing that Celtic’s defensive frailties still existed.
At half time Celtic were a goal down after missing a series of chances and the feeling was that this may be one of those days. However, the team were playing well and they deservedly equalised in 56 minutes when Craig Burley converted a low cross from Henrik Larsson.
Coyne was a thorn in Celtic’s side and he put the Steelmen back in front with a fine header before his team mate Greg Denholm was ordered off after an altercation with Larsson.
Celtic took advantage of Motherwell’s numerical disadvantage and Burley scored his second with a terrific rising shot. With time running out the Celts then raised a storming finish when Simon Donnelly scored the winner with a spectacular header from Jackie McNamara’s cross.
Celtic had prevailed in a cup tie environment and there were huge roars from the Celtic support when news arrived that Aberdeen had held Rangers to a draw at Ibrox.
The reaction to Marc Reiper’s debut was favourable but the Scotland on Sunday were less kindly towards his defensive partner, Stubbs:
‘Of all the challenges Rieper faces at Celtic, playing alongside Stubbs may well be the biggest. The oft-voiced theory that the Englishman would show his true worth as soon as he had a decent partner looked dubious. Stubbs still appears to be a riddle wrapped inside an enigma, boxed up in a donkey.’
A somewhat cruel media opinion but every Celtic fan will know that this was the season that Celtic prevented Rangers achieving the magical ten. One of the prime reasons for this was the excellent defensive partnership between Reiper and Stubbs which, despite a rocky start, was forged on this sunny day at Fir Park.