Alan Pattullo: Fireworks on - and off - the pitch in dramatic Old Firm derby

It was a fiery encounter between Celtic and Rangers. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire.
It was a fiery encounter between Celtic and Rangers. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire.
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For long spells this match resembled what it was: a clash between the champions-elect and an also-ran scrapping for everything just to stay in contention.

New Ibrox manager Pedro Caixinha, who is set to be unveiled tomorrow, sat in the stand and drank deep of the scene, making a point of searching out Celtic chief executive Peter 
Lawwell at the end to shake his hand.

Such good manners might not survive repeated exposure to a fixture that made a mockery of those who seek to claim it’s not what it was.

Rangers started like a train, as tends to happen on such occasions when the opposition have been so roundly written-off.

They were full of gusto and willing but short on elan – again the usual ­story when a Hamilton Accies or a Kilmarnock come calling.

Many Celtic fans were eager to argue that today’s clash merited the equivalent status of such a fixture. So marked was the gulf in quality at times this claim was easy to believe.

But the enthusiasm of the Celtic fans belied the party line that this was Not An Old Firm Match.

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Fireworks on London Road at 10.30am? We must take into account that these are good times for Celtic. When would it not seem like a good time to march down the road letting off green flares while singing choruses of praise to Brendan Rodgers? But this surely wouldn’t normally happen before a run-of-the-mill fixture.

These remain good times to be a Celtic supporter despite the way it ended today in the “Glasgow ­derby”, the use-at-all-costs term the Parkhead club have decreed should be employed to describe this fixture in their official publications.

This afternoon’s match programme certainly made liberal use of the phrase. But call it what you will, the dramatic manner in which Rangers secured the draw to extinguish the horrible threat of a whitewash in these games this season clearly stung the home supporters.

Of course, their team will win the war, perhaps as soon as this weekend at Dens Park, when a victory over Dundee will guarantee the title if Aberdeen have lost at home to Hearts 24 hours earlier.

A banner cautioning Rangers fans to “mind the gap” was waved in the direction of the away end at the final whistle.

Celtic know they are laughing longest. But yesterday was an unexpected jolt, make no mistake, supplying succour to Rangers before their next “Glasgow derby” appointment in the Scottish Cup.

An early opening that Martyn Waghorn, otherwise excellent, failed to take followed the familiar plot line of an underdog coming to Celtic Park and blowing their best chance to score during a promising start that’s rendered redundant as the home side start to flex their muscles.

Rangers actually failed to take advantage of a second opening when Waghorn was again foiled by Craig Gordon (pictured left), the Celtic goalkeeper later hailed by manager Rodgers as among the finest in Europe.

These failures in front of goal seemed certain to be rued by Rangers the way lesser lights so often do here, when plucky performers are left with nothing tangible at the end.

But with Celtic struggling to make it out of their own half in the opening period, one thing seemed sure: this was not going to be the epic home victory predicted by those such as former Celtic striker Frank McAvennie, who impishly forecast an 8-0 win for his old side.

As one fan in the main stand was heard to say as he made his way for a half-time pie: “My 10-0 is no’ coming up but I don’t care!”

Celtic, at this point, were 1-0 up after Stuart Armstrong’s well-hit strike ten minutes before half-time.

Rodgers’ side were beginning to impose their authority. If it was humiliation of their guests they wanted, home fans were rewarded with a glimpse of Scott Brown doing keepie-ups like any son of Hill of Beath worth their salt.

Celtic seemed set to add one goal more at least. But while chasing shadows isn’t particularly edifying for any team to have to endure, Rangers did look more convincing in defence than of late.

Helping to underline their wish to be considered a rung above the likes of Partick Thistle and Dundee, Rangers became the first team to bag a point from Celtic Park this season when Clint Hill pounced to equalise with three minutes of normal time left.

The Glasgow derby, Old Firm derby, call it what you will, still had time to throw up another talking point when Hill clattered into Leigh Griffiths as the Celtic substitute was in the process of shooting with the whole ground expecting Bobby Madden to point to the penalty spot.

This decision is still being debated.. Another sign this fixture remains what it was.