Rangers and Celtic served up an Old Firm derby for the ages - advantage, well, who knows?

This clash had pretty much everything as Ibrox outfit roar back to hold champions

Ibrox might be celebrating its 125th anniversary but the old stadium has never staged an Old Firm meeting like this one – and might not again for another 125 years.

VAR played a central role, as it must these days. But the indefatigable spirit of both teams was an equally key ingredient on an afternoon of breathless, brilliant drama. Six goals were shared but that was only the half of it and the dust will still be settling by the time Rangers line up against Dundee at Dens Park – maybe – in midweek in their now crucial game in hand.

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They will be excused some heavy legs after this double comeback. It didn’t seem likely at half time, when they trailed 2-0. And it certainly did not seem possible after 87 minutes, when Ibrox was plunged into silence once more as substitute Adam Idah put Celtic 3-2 up just moments after the hosts had drawn level. Surely this was the knockout blow? Not just with reference to this game but in terms of the entire title race.

Celtic's Cameron Carter-Vickers grabs Rangers' Todd Cantwell by the shirt at full time.Celtic's Cameron Carter-Vickers grabs Rangers' Todd Cantwell by the shirt at full time.
Celtic's Cameron Carter-Vickers grabs Rangers' Todd Cantwell by the shirt at full time.

No one told Rabbi Matondo, who revealed later he was challenged to do a “Kevin De Bruyne” by manager Philippe Clement. He did that and more, curling in an unstoppable shot in the dying seconds that made Ibrox shake and meant an important amendment had to be applied to the league table. With one swish of Matondo’s boot Celtic’s lead was cut from four points to one, as it had been before kick-off.

It wasn’t long after kick-off that things began unstitching very badly for Rangers on a day when the majority of factors seemed to be in their favour, including over 50,000 noisy passionate fans compared to zero from Celtic. “We Are The Boys In Blue,” read the large banner unveiled at the front of the Broomloan Stand.

It was a helpful reminder for the hosts, who struggled to find another man in an opening period that threatened their treble dream and, more immediately, stretched the home supporters' patience beyond breaking point. Rangers were rattled, barely able to string two passes together. Included among this alarming ineptitude was the loss of a goal after just 21 seconds. Yes, you read that right. Twenty. One. Seconds.

Flying Japanese winger Daizen Maeda certainly wasn’t for hanging around as he chased down James Tavernier, who was slipshod in the extreme when seeking to hook the ball clear after Joe Hart’s long clearance. All the Rangers skipper succeeded in doing was hit the ball off Maeda, who couldn’t have picked his spot better if he tried. That said, Jack Butland, although redeeming himself later, looked a bit slow to react in front of the watching Gareth Southgate, who chose this frantic affair over Manchester United v Liverpool for his Sunday afternoon's viewing.

Rangers' Rabbi Matondo curls the ball beyond Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart to make it 3-3 at Ibrox.Rangers' Rabbi Matondo curls the ball beyond Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart to make it 3-3 at Ibrox.
Rangers' Rabbi Matondo curls the ball beyond Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart to make it 3-3 at Ibrox.

The England manager won't have regretted the decision although it was possibly slightly discombobulating for him to witness an Old Firm goal greeted by … surreal silence. With no Celtic fans inside the stadium, there was a repeat of the eeriness that greeted Kyogo Furuhashi’s opener on the stroke of half time in September at the same end of the same ground.

All the platitudes, all the pre-match flannel about keeping it tight, playing your way into the game and getting a feel for the occasion had been rendered redundant in the blink of an eye. It’s not as if it was an important match or anything. Not that you’d have known it from the way Matt O’Riley stretched the visitors' lead with a dinked penalty – after a VAR-spotted handball by Connor Goldson – again that seemed to hand the initiative to Celtic in the title race.

It was like he was taking a penalty in that local park where he trained with his father during the pandemic after turning down a new contract with Fulham. The bottle of Buckfast lobbed in his direction from the front rows of the Copland Stand ruined that impression somewhat. Advantage Celtic. Or so it seemed.

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Spare a thought for Colin Stein, Willie Johnston and Nacho Novo, the three former Rangers stars invited to conduct the “Union Jackpot” half-time draw. “Not the best of starts, what are you hoping for in the second half?” asked the host. Stein, never one to mince words, was blunt and to the point. “I want a shot on goal from Rangers first of all, there hasn’t been one yet,” the former forward replied. It wasn’t completely true. Hart was forced into a double save from Fabio Silva shortly before the break.

Stein scored 97 goals for Rangers in two spells. This is a total any striker would be proud of but is exceeded by the phenomenon of a goalscoring right-back Rangers are fortunate to be able to count on, although Tavernier has proved unusually unreliable from the spot in recent weeks.

Despite being handed a torrid time of it by Maeda – whose drumming little footsteps he will surely hear in his nightmares – he did seem the best bet Rangers had of getting back into both the match and title race. And so it proved. It was, however, a complicated process, which initially looked less than profitable for Rangers, who saw Fabio Silva booked for simulation after Alistair Johnston’s challenge six minutes into the second half.

The swiftness with which John Beaton got out his card underlined how sure he was and indeed, Brendan Rodgers later stressed he felt the referee had got the on-field decision right. But invited to review the award, Beaton’s confidence in his own decision was inevitably eroded. He rescinded Silva’s booking and pointed to the spot. Tavernier swept the penalty into the top corner for Rangers goal No. 132.

Game on. Title race on. The Ibrox side thought they had equalised before they eventually did, with Cyriel Dessers’ goal chalked off for a foul in the build-up by Tom Lawrence. It was doubly cruel on the home fans, who twice had their hopes dashed – Beaton had appeared to signal a goal on his return from the monitor. Abdallah Sima’s well-controlled deflected effort with four minutes left did count, but then so did Idah’s drilled finish just over a minute later. Again, silence.

But the volume was turned up again three minutes into injury time. Matondo’s thrilling finish into the top corner after easily side-stepping Yang Hyun-jun was the final act of note, save for some handbags at the final whistle. Advantage, well, who knows? But it will be fascinating finding out over the next six weeks.



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