Aberdeen 2 Rangers 0
Rangers lost out on the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title on a night to forget at Aberdeen as Celtic retained their crown with a win against Dundee United.
Nacho Novo was sent off with 10 minutes to go after Lee Miller and Darren Mackie had both scored for the Dons and news had filtered through of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink’s winner at Tannadice.
The destination of the trophy was always in Celtic’s hands because of their superior goal difference but it was a disappointing night nevertheless for a Rangers team who had not so long ago harboured hopes of an historic quadruple.
Their target now is a win over Queen of the South in Saturday’s Scottish Cup final at Hampden to add to the CIS Insurance Cup won at the same venue back in March.
Rangers had twice denied their bitter rivals on the final day of the season in recent years, clinching the title on goal difference in 2003 and then against all the odds in 2005 when the helicopter carrying the SPL trophy famously changed direction.
This time, there would only be thoughts of what might have been this season as they prepared for the long journey back to Glasgow as Celtic claimed their third consecutive championship for the first time since the 1970s.
Walter Smith never expected a goal-spree at Pittodrie to win the title on goal difference but the Rangers boss did opt for an attack-minded formation, with the rare sight of Daniel Cousin and Jean-Claude Darcheville both starting up front.
Charlie Adam was drafted into midfield, Christian Dailly started at right-back and centre-half Carlos Cuellar returned from suspension.
That meant Kris Boyd, Novo and Kirk Broadfoot all had to settle for a place on the bench after contributing to Monday’s 3-0 win at St Mirren.
Aberdeen made two changes from the side who lost to Motherwell. Andrew Considine was injured and Josh Walker was on international duty with England U19s, with their places taken by Zander Diamond and Chris Maguire.
They tried to make the most of their opponents’ nerves and pushed forward early on but it was Rangers who carved out the first real chance.
Barry Ferguson played the ball out to Darcheville on the right flank and he delivered into the box to Steven Davis who saw his shot deflected past the upright.
Cuellar then forced goalkeeper Jamie Langfield to tip over after an Adam corner broke to him 12 yards out before the Spanish defender glanced wide the resulting cross.
At the other end, Maguire was not too far away when he volleyed just over after being set for the shot by Stuart Duff.
Rangers survived the scare and came close when Darcheville rifled into the side-netting but they held their breath again when a powerful, low shot from Duff fell inches wide with Neil Alexander beaten.
Aberdeen threatened again and this time Alexander was up to the task when he was called into action to hold a curling effort from Maguire.
As half-time grew nearer Darcheville squared into the path of Ferguson but the Rangers captain squandered a decent chance when he blasted well over to jeers from the home fans.
A Karim Touzani foul on Kevin Thomson just outside the box provided another great opportunity but Langfield was far from troubled in the Dons goal as Adam’s free-kick screamed yards over.
Rangers would have been bolstered by the news Celtic had also failed to score in the first half at Tannadice but almost fell behind within three minutes of the restart at Pittodrie.
A smart shot from Miller sliced through the blue jerseys in the box but Alexander did well to block the powerful drive.
Langfield proved to be just as capable to hold a Ferguson shot after he had shrugged off Alan Maybury to have a crack at goal following a decent run.
With an hour gone, Rangers completely changed their strikeforce when they swapped Cousin for Novo and Darcheville for Boyd.
But it was Aberdeen who opened the scoring when Miller nodded home from a Barry Nicholson cross after 63 minutes.
News then began to filter through that Vennegoor of Hesselink had scored for Celtic.
And, just to make Rangers’ night even worse, they fell further behind after 77 minutes.
Mackie latched onto a cross from the right and lashed a low shot past Alexander to snuff out any lingering hope Rangers had left.
A red card for Novo seconds later summed up the Ibrox club’s miserable night when he was sent packing for an over the top challenge on Duff.