THE SPL could not have asked for a better match to kick off the 2005/06 campaign than this encounter between Motherwell and Celtic at Fir Park.
Played on a Saturday lunchtime in late July, Celtic seemed on course for a routine victory before Motherwell roared back into the match. Thousands of TV viewers sat watching in wonderment as the hosts took a late lead before eventually settling for a draw.
Celtic came into the match licking their wounds after the infamous 5-0 humiliation suffered at the hands of Artmedia Bratislava in the qualifying round of the Champions League.
Gordon Strachan, for his first league game as Celtic manager, opted against wholesale changes to his back four and goalkeeper - Stephen McManus coming in for Bobo Balde was his only switch - hoping the Bratislava humbling had been a fluke. Sadly for him, and certain members of that defence, the Motherwell match demonstrated a number of startling issues within the Hoops’ rearguard.
Things started well enough with John Hartson reaching for a back post header and directing the ball over ‘Well stopper Gordon Marshall. Although Brian Kerr shortly equalised for the home side with a well worked goal, Celtic were in a commanding position at half-time as Hartson put them back in front with an unorthodox backward header before completing a first-half hat-trick from the penalty spot.
McManus, making only his 10th appearance for the club, had already been culpable for the first goal when his missed header at the front post allowed Jim Hamilton to pull a goal back. The 22-year old didn’t cover himself in glory at the Motherwell equaliser either as Scott McDonald was allowed to squeeze in between the centre back and Neil Lennon to glance a header past David Marshall.
The goal which put Motherwell in front, an idea which seemed inconceivable at half-time, was scored by youngster William Kinniburgh. It what would the highlight of the defender’s career, Kinniburgh was in the right place to loop a header past Marshall and complete an incredible comeback.
But the drama wasn’t finished yet. Substitute Craig Beattie raced onto a Hartson flick on and managed to get a toe on the ball before the approaching Gordon Marshall to earn a share of the spoils.
For Celtic it was a case of all’s well that ends well. Strachan would survive the early hiccups to help Celtic reclaim the league title and have a very successful four years in charge, though there remained a section of the Celtic Park support who never embraced the current Scotland boss.
As for Motherwell, they said goodbye to Terry Butcher at the end of the 2005/06 season, which is ironic as they apparently want to bring him back in the present day.
• Watch the highlights on YouTube.