Why this Celtic win over Rangers was sweetest for Callum McGregor

Callum McGregor has experienced plenty of victories at Ibrox in a Celtic shirt, but this one will taste that little bit sweeter.

Not only does it move Celtic six points clear in the cinch Premiership title race with six games to play, it was also McGregor’s first victory as club captain on enemy soil.

The skipper showed why he was handed the armband by Ange Postecoglou last summer on the back of Scott Brown’s departure. Rangers’ fast start, which included Aaron Ramsay’s early opener, had the home fans rocking and Celtic on the ropes. Players like Reo Hatate looked startled in their first appearance at Ibrox. It called for a cool head and someone to drive Celtic back into the match. That’s exactly what McGregor offered. His surging run into the Rangers penalty box played a part in Tom Rogic’s equaliser, and he then helped his team regain control.

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“There is obviously the chaos that is going on and we tried to rely on our team shape to get us through that,” said McGregor. “I think the most important thing was to rely on the principles of the team when there are difficult moments. We understand our roles and what the manager wants and we have to go and deliver it. It was good to get through that first little phase of the game and then get ourselves level and we had a bit more comfort in the game. In the second half we had real good resilience to get through it.

Callum McGregor celebrates at full time after Celtic's victory.

“It was a huge effort. To go a goal down so early in the game but then recover. We got ourselves level and then to go in 2-1 at half-time was superb and probably just what we needed in the game. That gave us the impetus to come out in the second half and be strong, be compact. You are always going to come under pressure when you come here so it was a huge effort and performance from the group.

"It’s my first win here as captain, it’s superb and I’ve got thank the lads for that, it was a real team effort.

“Everyone came together, running hard for each other, making blocks, making tackles, everything.

“So, it was a real team performance and that show everyone is together in there.

McGregor drove Celtic forward from midfield.

“It was brilliant for the fans to get back in, we just wish there was more of them, but hopefully we’ve sent them home happy and the millions watching around the world.”

The Celtic faithful are likely to be a little more than happy. They started the season with three defeats and have trailed Rangers for parts of the campaign by six points. The swing has been seismic and McGregor, while admitting that there is a still a lot of football to be played, explained just how he and his team-mates have bridged the gap.

“It’s obviously been a huge effort, a huge turnaround for the club and from the manager and the players who have come in,” continued McGregor. “But I said it from day one when I saw this group of players come in and train, I knew very quickly that it wasn’t a transition for us: we wanted to win, the players were hungry to win, the manager is super hungry and those are the demands he puts on the group.

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"We just seem to be getting better and we’re facing more challenges together as a group and I think when you do that you give yourselves a really good base for the season. That’s where we are just now but we understand there is still a lot of football to be played. We don’t come off it, we come back in tomorrow, we work hard, and we look forward to the weekend as well.”

Celtic's Carl Starfelt celebrates at full time with Daizen Maeda.

Not that McGregor is counting any chickens. He knows title races can take plenty of twists and turns. Asked if his job is now to keep feet on the ground, McGregor responded: “Yeah, I think we’ve got good guys in there anyway that are not even thinking about getting carried away at all.

“We’ll come in on Monday, recover, and look to the weekend. That will be another challenge, the manager will put the same demands on us as he did today.

“I think that’s the beauty with this group of players, they are just so hungry to win and do well, and when you have that every day it stands you in good stead.”

McGregor was also quick to hail the contribution of his defensive players, who played a key part in quelling Rangers’ quest for a second-half equaliser. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt, in particular, were impervious at the back.

“I think you’re expecting a period of pressure at some point in the game,” added McGregor.

“We had a good compact block, forced the ball on the outside and then we were reasonably well set for the crosses that were coming in.

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“The boys defended brilliantly, the two centre-backs were outstanding coupled with the tow full-backs as well, and everyone else was doing their bit.

“When you come here you’ve got to defend strong, you’ve got to defend one-v-one and that’s exactly what we did.

“That’s another side of the game we’ve shown we can do as well.”

“The manager talks about it every day that we defend as an XI, it’s not just the back four, it’s everyone together.

“When we’ve got the ball we’re 11 players trying to score, when we don’t have it we’re 11 players trying to defend.

“I think that’s why we’ve built such a good unit in terms of everybody understanding their role within the team.”

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