Scottish football has become accustomed to the spectacle of largely one-sided Old Firm fixtures in recent years.
But the sight of Rangers being the utterly dominant force when the ancient Glasgow rivals cross swords was both a rare and welcome phenomenon for their supporters to witness at Ibrox on Saturday.
It will take much more than just one derby victory for Steven Gerrard to loosen the iron grip Celtic have exerted on the Scottish Premiership under his old Liverpool gaffer Brendan Rodgers’ tutelage.
This, however, was unquestionably the most encouraging 90 minutes Rangers and their fans have experienced since the club’s financial collapse in 2012.
Gerrard was able to sign off his first six months in charge at Ibrox with the most complete and effective performance his team have yet delivered. They were startlingly superior to the reigning champions all over the pitch and now go into the winter break fuelled by a genuine belief they can sustain a strong title challenge in the second half of the season.
By contrast, this was as poorly as Celtic have played in a domestic fixture since Rodgers took charge in the summer of 2016. After an unprecedented run of success in Old Firm matches, his first defeat in 13 outings against Rangers will certainly have reinforced Rodgers’ desire to freshen up and strengthen his squad during the January transfer window.
Celtic remain the favourites to come out on top in what is proving to be an absorbingly competitive title race in which Kilmarnock and Aberdeen continue to have a significant interest. The Parkhead men still top the table on goal difference from Rangers and have a game in hand but there is a growing sense that the aura of impregnability Rodgers has constructed around them in the previous two seasons may be drifting away.
Nowhere was that more evident on Saturday than in a midfield battle which Rangers won hands-down. It’s an area of the pitch where Celtic have often almost contemptuously toyed with Rangers during Rodgers’ tenure but this time it was the trio of Scott Arfield, Ross McCrorie and goal scorer Ryan Jack who took complete control.
Arfield ensured Celtic captain Scott Brown endured one of his most discomfiting afternoons in this fixture, while Olivier Ntcham also had no answer to the greater energy and desire of those in the Rangers engine room.
The loss of Callum McGregor from the Celtic midfield, their most influential player this season deployed at left-back with Kieran Tierney only fit enough for a place among the substitutes, proved damagingly disruptive to the champions.
Aside from a fairly even opening ten minutes, which saw Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor make what proved to be his only significant save of the match to keep out a James Forrest shot, the hosts held all the aces.
The 1-0 lead Rangers took into the interval, Jack claiming his first goal for the club when his 30th-minute shot took a deflection off Brown on its way to beating Craig Gordon, did not do justice to their mastery of proceedings.
Gordon kept Celtic in contention with some fine saves and there was a brief spell in the second half, when Rodgers switched to a diamond formation in midfield, when the visitors hinted at a recovery as McGregor saw a goal marginally but correctly disallowed for offside following a rare move of fluency and incision.
But although the inspirational Andy Halliday had to make a brave and crucial block to keep out Ntcham’s 85th-minute shot, an equaliser for Celtic would have been a form of larceny on this occasion. The slender scoreline was another reminder for Gerrard that Rangers will have to develop greater efficiency in chance conversion in the second half of the campaign if they hope to maximise their prospects of winning the title.
On-loan Liverpool winger Ryan Kent, who shone on his return to action after injury and provided a brilliant assist for Jack’s goal, was among those who passed up opportunities to inflict a much heavier defeat on Celtic. The 22-year-old, however, was gratified by his role in a success he believes will have earned Rangers greater respect throughout the Premiership.
“The way we played today, I think everyone will fear us in the league,” said Kent. “We were the better team. There are a lot of good players in our squad and you can see what it means to them. They all put 110 per cent in. When we perform like that, you can see what we can get out of games.
“I could have had a couple of goals myself, that was the only disappointing thing for me, but the most important thing were the three points.
“The target was to get after Celtic from the first whistle because we showed them too much respect when we played them away from home in September. We gave them too much time on the ball and they looked a better team. But this time we got after them and looked much the better team.”
Despite the injury problems which saw Filip Benkovic and Mikael Lustig both replaced before the start of the second half, there were no excuses offered from the Celtic camp.
“The changes didn’t make a great deal of an impact,” said goalkeeper Gordon. “We were still set up to play in a certain style but we just didn’t manage to execute our gameplan well enough.
“Whatever player plays, they all know their roles. We knew what we were trying to do. We just weren’t capable of carrying out the plan well enough.”