Celtic-Rangers verdict: Only one power surge mattered, salt poured into teapot, Philippe Clement's two non-negiotiables

Lundstram’s moment of madness leaves Ibrox club in Old Firm state as title remains in Celtic’s hands

Never mind a geomagnetic storm. There was nothing interfering with the Parkhead power grid as Celtic all but sealed their third successive Premiership title, although something clearly caused John Lundstram's reasoning to short-circuit.

Forget the northern lights, by being sent off on the stroke of half time the Rangers midfielder ensured that his side's title chances went in only one direction – south. The Liverpudlian's lunacy meant Rangers were left without an earthly in this much-hyped title showdown. Ten men duly lost the league.

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It was always going to be a tall order after failures in Dingwall and Dundee in April left Rangers in a catch-up situation at a critical stage of the season. Although this was the knock-out blow, other results hurt Rangers more profoundly. Nevertheless, Philippe Clement has now failed to win any of his first three clashes against Celtic – and Old Firm specialist Brendan Rodgers. A Scottish Cup final against the same opponents now assumes even more critical importance. Another defeat, Clement's third in four meetings, cannot be borne. The Rangers manager will focus on two non-negotiables over the next fortnight.

Celtic's players celebrate with fans after the big win over Rangers.Celtic's players celebrate with fans after the big win over Rangers.
Celtic's players celebrate with fans after the big win over Rangers.

Don’t lose the first goal, don’t fly into unnecessary challenges. Rangers broke these golden rules – for the 11th time in the last 12 Old Firm derbies in the case of the former – and suffered the consequences. Celtic could even afford to waste a second-half penalty, after Mohamed Diomande clipped Matt O’Riley, scorer of Celtic’s opener. O’Riley’s effort was saved by the immaculate Jack Butland, who was blameless for this defeat. Not so Lundstram.

What was the midfielder thinking? Was it the heat? Was it the tension? Was it the fact that he’s almost certainly headed for the Ibrox exit door and will therefore be spared an inquest that is likely to last all summer? Or was he simply still frazzled by the unfortunate own goal he had inadvertently scored eight minutes earlier to put Celtic 2-0 up and spark more crazy scenes at Parkhead?

It's often said that just before half time is a poor time to concede. Well, what about losing a man right before the interval in circumstances that were completely avoidable? Rangers had, to their enormous credit, just regained a foothold in a game that had ebbed and flowed and then erupted in five first-half minutes that had supported all the pre-match hype. Three goals flew in, the last of which, a header from Cyriel Dessers, brought Rangers back into the match and back into the championship race. The second half was a delicious prospect. All to play for. Bring it on.

Then came Lundstram’s brainstorm. This was not a last-ditch tackle in an attempt to save a goal nor was it some instinctive swing of an arm in a tussle, both of which scenarios might have merited some mitigation. No, this was a wild, studs up challenge on Alistair Johnston in Celtic’s own half of the field. In other words, completely unnecessary.

The game changed on John Lundstram's red card for this tackle on Alistair Johnston.The game changed on John Lundstram's red card for this tackle on Alistair Johnston.
The game changed on John Lundstram's red card for this tackle on Alistair Johnston.

If one were being kind, we might propose that Lundstram was trying to force the issue. Rangers had just halved the deficit and their title flame was flickering once more. The blood was up. Another goal before half time, and who knows? Lundstram spotted a slightly loose ball from Joe Hart to Johnston and sought to maintain the pressure on the hosts, who were tottering. This is the case for the defence, though it's notable that not even Clement bothered to submit it afterwards.

Because he knew, like the rest of us, that there was plenty of time left. Simply ensuring that Rangers went in at the interval still 2-1 down was critical. It was paramount that they did so with the full complement of players. Instead, Lundstram was waiting to greet his teammates when they arrived for their cuppa. He might as well have poured salt in the teapot for good measure.

The visitors’ chances unravelled faster than the tifo display – message: “we will be your strength, fear nothing” – unfurled by the Green Brigade before kick-off. The obligatory You’ll Never Walk Alone seemed to have been delayed slightly. The singalong was still going on as Rangers kicked off, lending it maximum effect. One can become blasé about this kind of thing but it was genuinely impressive.

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No wonder James Forrest looked so energised. He tore at Rangers, unfortunate opposite man Borna Barisic in particular. He did enough in the first ten minutes to justify his selection in the starting XI. The veteran winger helped set the tone. One Forrest cross was deflected towards his own goalkeeper by John Souttar. Fortunately for him, Butland was alert and performed a brilliant stop.

A Forrest shot flew over shortly afterwards. But Rangers recovered. Fabio Silva twice went close, dragging one shot wide of the far post and sending a header past when it looked easier to score. It was a reminder why his celebration after scoring against Kilmarnock last weekend – involving highlighting his name on the back of his shirt while making a 'yapping' gesture with his hand – seemed so ill-advised.

O’Riley and Callum McGregor, meanwhile, were getting back into the old routine, with the pair combining to put Celtic in front. The former took a touch before lashing past Butland. Clement bowed his head. Rangers would have to do it the hard way, again. Losing the first goal is one thing, losing the first two is quite another.

Daizen Maeda scampered to the byline before cutting back. The unfortunate Lundstram made an unfortunate connection with the ball and it flew past Butland into the corner, whereupon Maeda threw himself into the front rows of the Lisbon Lions Stand. Bedlam. But Rangers responded with a well-worked goal. Silva back-heeled for Barisic and the Croatian clipped in a cross. Dujon Sterling nodded back across goal and Dessers headed in.

Everything had to be reassessed minutes later when Lundstram was ordered off. There was a brief stay of execution for the midfielder because he was initially only booked by referee Willie Collum. But it was a red all day long. VAR intervened. Off he went, taking Rangers’ hopes with him.



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