How Celtic's dazzling destruction of Rangers felt like a restoration of the pre-pandemic footballing order in Scotland

It was more than the leadership of the cinch Premiership that changed hands with Celtic’s breathtaking 3-0 takedown of Rangers in the eardrum-bleeding cacophony of Parkhead.

It was, without exaggeration, the sense of everything in the battle for supremacy in the Scottish game. The vibrancy and vivaciousness of Ange Postecoglou’s men when set against the jaded, rudderlessness of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side felt like it captured the two clubs at more than just a point in time; more than just on a dazzling night for Celtic and a dismal one for Rangers. An outcome that extends the unbeaten domestic run of Postecoglou’s team to 22 games - the longest by any team in Scotland since Brendan Rodgers’ treble-winning Celtic invincibles in 2016-17. An incredible statistic, it was matched by the concession of three goals by Rangers inside the first 44 minutes, following on from the weekend 3-3 draw at Dingwall, make for the first time the Ibrox club have lost to Celtic in eight matches.

It felt like nothing short of the restoration of the footballing order in this country as it stood before the Ibrox men rampaged to the title with an unbeaten league campaign last season under Steven Gerrard. As Celtic came apart at the seams to finish 25 points adrift of their bitter rivals in pursuit of a record 10th straight title under Neil Lennon. And all under the pandemic shadow that necessitated the lifeless spectacle of games played behind closed doors, without the intensity and din that suffused Celtic’s first home derby with a crowd for two years, which in turn seemed to provide them a roar-fuelled propulsion to humble the champions. A din that visibly seemed to spook the visitors from the off as Celtic started like a runaway train.

What followed in a stunningly one-sided encounter wasn’t merely a personal vindication of Postecoglou’s fizzing, front-foot focus that has completely rebuilt Celtic from rubble inside a mere seven months. It was testament to his spectacular transfer acumen. The fascination pre-match was on whether Callum McGregor would be able to take the pitch, masked up, following the facial injury he sustained little over a week ago. He did, in courageous fashion, and it meant that the Postecoglou recruits in Celtic’s starting line-up numbered, eh, just the nine.

Celtic's Reo Hatate celebrates making it 1-0 over Rangers at Celtic Park. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

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All were central to Celtic running over the top of Rangers in opening period in which could have produced a 6-0 scoreline, but for a set of body-contorting, top drawer stops from Allan McGregor, who seemed to have Giorgos Giakoumakis’ number but not, as so often in the past, Celtic as a whole.

As Rangers seemed to play at half pace and in a daze for so much of the opening 45, an energised home team had all the zingers on show. And in Reo Hatate a player who stamped his name over a first derby with a scoring double that merely reinforced the belief that Postecoglou has unearthed a real diamond.

His 22-yard angled drive that bounced and foxed McGregor to open the scoring wasn’t the cleanest hit, but it was sufficiently effective. A flying elbow from Joe Aribo that caught his team-mate Calvin Bassey and left him poleaxed in defending a corner from Matt O’Riley immediately before the Japanese midfielder let fly led to Rangers protests that referee Bobby Madden should have halted play. Following a conversation with his assistant David McGeachie, he allowed the goal to stand.

It was one-way traffic for the next half hour as Celtic’s ferociously paced passing and movement - in particular the inter-play between McGregor, Hatate, the clever O’Riley, the forcing Liel Abada - allowed them to slice and dice their opponents time and again. But it wasn’t until the closing minutes of the half that they put the warranted sheen on their supremacy. A second strike from outside the area by Hatate, this time a sumptuous chop of the ball that allowed him to bend it into the corner, induced bedlam inside the stadium. And 2-0 in 42 minutes became 3-0 in 44 with Hatate exquisitely arcing over a cross from the left that Abada met in the middle to cushion-volley beyond the helpless McGregor.

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Liel Abada scores to make it 3-0 Celtic over Rangers at Celtic Park. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Aside from Joe Hart racing to smother ahead of Scott Arfield, Rangers constructed nothing of note, with the decision of van Bronckhorst to haul off the invisible Amad Diallo, Glen Kamara and Bassey and replace them with Leon Balogun, Ryan Jack and Fashion Sakala told its own story.

The intensity dropped in the second period, but Rangers, despite the odd moment, never looked like making a game of it as Postecoglou used his five subs judiciously, Daizen Maeda deployed for the last half hour having only returned from Japan overnight. In no small part that was down to the solidity of Celtic’s back four, wherein Cameron Carter-Vickers, Josip Juranovic and Carl Starfelt were immense. Compelling evidence that the Parkhead club are no longer the soft touches they so often proved for Rangers these past two years. It is not just going forward then that Postecoglou appears to have changed all, and changed it utterly.

Of course, a one-point gap is hardly insurmountable for van Bronckhorst and his team to bridge with 14 league games remaining, and in new arrival Aaron Ramsey they have a driving midfielder who can breathe life into a Rangers side in desperate need of being oxygenated. But there is such intoxicating elements about Postecoglou’s side, few would now bet against them experiencing the sweet smell of success in this title race.

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