The Rangers fans kept their side of the bargain and refrained from the kind of behaviour that is ensuring censures from Uefa are being delivered to Ibrox on an almost weekly basis at present. The players, however, failed this first significant domestic test of the season.
Rangers probably had more control in the first half, which doesn’t say much for Gerrard’s game-management, nor the replacements sent on. Sheyi Ojo, Jordan Jones, recipient of a late red card for an unforgivably wild challenge on fellow substitute Moritz Baur, and even Alfredo Morelos failed to spark a comeback. Morelos shot tamely past when presented with an opportunity to lob Fraser Forster at the end.
Before substitute Jonny Hayes tied things up it was tempting to describe Celtic’s victory as smash ‘n’ grab. But this would fail to take into account the chances they had to increase their lead prior to the late goal three minutes into time added on. It could have been worse for Rangers, who were outthought and outplayed as the visitors delivered an Old Firm tactical masterclass on another satisfying visit to Ibrox for Neil Lennon.
There was a commotion near the dugout after Hayes’ decisive strike. Leigh Griffiths was seen to aim a gesture at the Rangers fans in the enclosure. “I didn’t see it – I was halfway down the touchline by then,” said Lennon later. He enjoyed this, rightly so.
There was a comical booking for Scott Arfield as Olivier Ntcham tried to streak away. The midfielder almost pulled his opposite man’s shorts off as he tugged him back and refused to let go. Incredibly, given this was the 90th minute, it was the first booking. But it was an accurate representation of the game for the most part: Rangers left in Celtic’s wake, again.
Off the field, it was mostly a success. The match programme did not mention anything explicitly about the onus on Rangers supporters on a day when fierce scrutiny was being applied. But then you would have to be pretty stupid not to realise by now that certain songs are unacceptable and are hurting the club badly.
Those pushing the agenda that these add-ons and offensive ditties are integral to creating the atmosphere that helps sell this fixture to a global audience were the only ones silent yesterday; the rest of the supporters managed to create one hell of a noise despite the “restrictions”.
Betting slips were retrieved from pockets and waved in the air towards Griffiths when the striker emerged to warm up. One consequence of Celtic fans being relocated to a corner of the stadium is that the visitors’ subs have nowhere ‘friendly’ in which to warm up. Griffiths and his fellow replacements were forced into a choice between in front of the main stand towards the Broomloan Road end or in front of the main stand towards the Copland Road end. Griffiths chose the latter and was afforded little compassion after his recent personal troubles.
So it was far from sanitised. How could it be amid the white heat of derby action and when the bookmakers reflected the expectation it was going to be particularly competitive by making Rangers marginal favourites? Lennon queried this but few others did, particularly having seen his team. It looked far from sturdy at the back. Nir Bitton came in as an emergency centre-half and joining him were three Old Firm novices: full-backs Boli Bolingoli and Hatem Elhamed and centre-half Christopher Jullien. A further re-jig was required when Bitton pulled a hamstring after 66 minutes to be replaced by another Old Firm debutant and recent signing, Moritz Bauer.
What do we know? For all the misgivings about the personnel, Celtic performed pretty well in this department. They repelled whatever Rangers threw at them, which wasn’t much frankly. Jullien was immense, bringing both the composure and stature of a Virgil van Dijk to the proceedings.
Fraser Forster kept a clean sheet on his return to the fixture – the 100th of his career. He rarely needed to extend himself. Jermain Defoe had a rare sight of goal in the first half but shot straight at the keeper when he needed to find the far corner. It was particularly wounding for Rangers since Celtic opened the scoring just minutes later.
Odsonne Edouard timed his run to perfection in order to pick up Mikey Johnston’s lay-off after slack play from Connor Goldson. The Frenchman rarely fails to deliver in these one-on-one situations.
It can be an unforgiving arena. Joe Aribo learned that when adjudged to have pulled out of a 50-50 challenge with Scott Brown midway through the first half. The home stands provided their opinion of this via a loud swell of communal anguish. The midfielder earned some redemption for himself by winning another battle for the ball, with Elhamed this time, moments later.
Aribo was given a good reception when he was replaced by Jones with 20 minutes left and did at least keep probing. But that’s the very least expected on such an occasion. Too many others retreated into shells.