Rangers left it late, but became only the second team to prevent Celtic from winning a domestic game thanks to Clint Hill’s late equaliser, with new boss Pedro Caixinha watching on from the stands.
If there can be any measure of satisfaction to be found from drawing a match which leaves you 33 points behind your greatest rivals with just ten games of a league campaign remaining, Rangers found it in the east end of Glasgow.
This was the result which, as Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers described it in the build-up, formally “eliminated” the Ibrox club from a title race in which they had laid such bold claims to being genuine contenders last summer.
Celtic’s coronation as six-in-a-row champions has long been an inevitability and could yet be confirmed as soon as this weekend, should their only remaining ‘challengers’ Aberdeen slip up at home to Hearts on Saturday before Rodgers’ men go to Dundee the following day.
So any frustration they felt at dropping Premiership points for only the second time this season was experienced in the context of their overall levels of dominance, which made it fairly irrelevant.
That said, the end of their run of 22 consecutive league victories would also be all the more irritating given that it was Rangers who brought it to a halt.
Clint Hill’s 87th-minute equaliser, with Stuart Armstrong having given Celtic a half-time lead, secured a share of the spoils for the visitors which their supporters celebrated as enthusiastically as any victory.
For new Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha, who took in the action from a seat in the stand ahead of his formal unveiling by the Ibrox club today, it was an afternoon which would have given him some encouragement for the daunting task he faces in trying to close the massive gulf which currently exists between the Glasgow giants.
For caretaker boss Graeme Murty, it was a day which allowed him to sign off from his temporary duties with his head held high. The club’s under-20 coach certainly deserves credit for the manner in which he has carried himself in the month since Rangers parted company with Mark Warburton.
Murty got his game plan pretty much spot-on here, albeit against a Celtic side who turned in one of their least convincing performances of the campaign. For the first time in his four Old Firm outings, top scorer Moussa Dembele’s threat was successfully nullified by a tactically diligent Rangers. Likewise, Celtic’s other main man this season, winger Scott Sinclair, was a peripheral figure for most of the afternoon.
Sinclair was successfully contained by Lee Hodson, whose inclusion at right-back, with James Tavernier moved into midfield in a 4-4-2 formation deployed by Murty, allowed Rangers to remain competitive throughout.
It soon became clear that the more extravagant predictions of a thumping Celtic victory would not materialise. Their sluggish start to the match saw Rangers spend far more time on the front foot in the first half hour than anyone would have expected. Rangers had by far the clearest scoring opportunity in that period and Martyn Waghorn should have done better than see his left-foot shot, having been sent clear by Kenny Miller’s flick-on, blocked by the outstretched boot of Craig Gordon. It was a fine save by the Celtic keeper but Waghorn’s effort lacked conviction.
It seemed to finally jag Celtic into life and they dominated the remainder of the first half. Wes Foderingham made an excellent stop when he touched an Armstrong free-kick on to a post but the Rangers keeper was beaten when the same player put the hosts in front in the 35th minute. The goal was something of a personal calamity for Jason Holt, the Rangers midfielder miscuing what should have been a straightforward clearance on the edge of his own penalty area.
It allowed Armstrong to receive a sharp return pass from James Forrest before he steadied himself and arrowed a left-foot shot low into the left-hand corner of Foderingham’s net.
While still struggling to find their optimum levels of fluency and intensity, Celtic continued to control possession and territory at the start of the second half. Foderingham made two more crucial saves to deny Armstrong, the second of them a brilliant intervention as he threw himself high to his right to keep out a sweet strike from the midfielder.
With the second goal proving elusive for Celtic, there remained no shortage of spirit in the Rangers ranks. That was translated into an increased level of ambition in the closing stages as they sniffed the possibility of an equaliser.
Waghorn threatened again when he got on the end of a Miller cutback, forcing a close-range block from Gordon, then Holt almost atoned for his earlier error when he cut in from the left and curled a shot narrowly wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.
A frantic finale to the contest saw Dembele pass up his best chance of the day when he dragged a close-range shot across the face of goal. Just two minutes later, Rangers were level. When Celtic were unable to clear a free-kick properly, Tavernier played the ball back into the penalty area where it broke for Emerson Hyndman.
The young American’s shot was clawed away by the right hand of Gordon but only as far as Hill, who smashed the ball into the empty net from close range. The drama wasn’t over and Celtic were left incensed in the 90th minute when their highly credible appeals for a penalty, as substitute Leigh Griffiths went down under Hill’s clumsy challenge, were ignored by referee Bobby Madden.
Rangers’ veteran defender certainly caught a break. Having already been booked, he would surely have been sent off had the spot-kick been given. It was a day when he and his team-mates had perhaps earned any luck which came their way.