For the first time in 21 years, Rangers have completed an undefeated top flight season in Old Firm matches after they inflicted a painful 4-1 defeat on their great rivals.
It was another dispiriting afternoon for Celtic in what has been a season chock-full of them for the deposed champions. A double from Kemar Roofe and strikes by Alfredo Morelos and Jermain Defoe gave Rangers their biggest margin of victory in this fixture since a 3-0 win under Walter Smith in October 2007.
There were mitigating circumstances for Celtic interim manager John Kennedy whose team had to play for over an hour with 10 men after Callum McGregor was sent off for two bookable offences committed within two minutes of each other.
It was a miserable end to Celtic captain Scott Brown’s involvement in Old Firm combat, the midfielder substituted after an hour as he counts down his final days in the Glasgow goldfish bowl before joining Aberdeen.
It remains to be seen how many of his team-mates will also be moving on in a summer revamp of significant proportions for putative new Celtic head coach Eddie Howe.
For Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, this was another gratifying afternoon and a vibrant response from his team to their shock Scottish Cup quarter-final elimination by St Johnstone seven days earlier.
They are now just two games away, against Livingston and Aberdeen, from recording only the fourth unbeaten top flight campaign in the 131-year history of league football in Scotland.
Rangers were worthy winners in the end, although prior to McGregor’s dismissal, Celtic had dominated possession and could consider themselves unfortunate to fall behind to Roofe’s first goal.
Mohamed Elyounoussi was prominent as they made the livelier start, albeit Morelos missed the clearest chance of the early stages when he was unable to sort out his feet properly and failed to convert from close range after being picked out by a brilliant James Tavernier cross.
As Celtic continued to probe at the other end, James Forrest saw a shot inadvertently blocked by his team-mate David Turnbull before Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor pulled another top drawer save from his repertoire when he touched a dipping shot from Elyounoussi onto his crossbar.
McGregor sees red
But the momentum swung in Rangers’ favour when they went ahead in the 26th minute. Callum McGregor, booked for a foul on Ryan Kent just two minutes earlier, clattered clumsily into Glen Kamara.
Referee Nick Walsh, taking charge of his first Old Firm fixture, waved play on and Rangers seized the advantage as Kent, a real thorn in the visitors’ side, and Joe Aribo combined to cut through the Celtic defence. Kent’s shot was miscued but Roofe reacted smartly to guide the ball beyond Scott Bain with his chest.
Celtic’s misery was compounded when Walsh called McGregor over and issued him with his second caution.
Before Rangers could fully impose themselves on their short-handed opponents, however, Celtic hit back with a 30th minute equaliser. It was another poorly conceded goal from a corner from Rangers’ perspective as Kristoffer Ajer was able to head Turnbull’s set piece back across the six yard box for Edouard to force home his 21st goal of the season despite the efforts of Steven Davis on the line to keep it out.
As the now breathless action continued, Rangers were back in front two minutes later. It was a majestic finish from Morelos, making up for his earlier aberration, as the Colombian international cut in from the right and cutely eluded Brown’s challenge before smashing a left foot shot high beyond the startled Bain.
With Elyounoussi dropping deeper and Forrest moving inside to play beside Edouard, Celtic reshuffled into a 4-3-2 formation as they looked to try and stay on the front foot as much as possible.
Forrest, watched from the directors’ box by Scotland manager Steve Clarke, should have done better with a shot which deflected wide off Barisic before Rangers needed a perceptive and superbly timed tackle from Davis to deny Edouard what looked likely to be a second equaliser.
Turnbull headed a Forrest cross wide from close range early in the second half but Rangers put themselves firmly in control when Roofe made it 3-1 in the 57th minute.
Roofe on fire
The English forward fed the ball wide to Barisic before making a run into the penalty area which wasn’t tracked by the Celtic defence. When Barisic’s floated cross arrived, Roofe was there to meet it with a firm header beyond the exposed Bain.
That was the cue for Brown to take his leave of the Old Firm stage for the last time, the veteran midfielder cutting a subdued figure as he was replaced by Ismaila Soro.
The final stages effectively saw Rangers in cruise control, albeit a late injury to Barisic further stretched their defensive options and saw Aribo filling in at left-back.
Rangers finished off the job in style, however, when Defoe claimed his first Old Firm goal with an excellent individual effort. The veteran striker turned Celtic defender Stephen Welsh inside out as he danced into the penalty area before steering a precise low shot beyond Bain.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Simpson, Barisic (Wright 79); Kamara, Davis, Aribo; Roofe (Defoe 86), Morelos (Hagi 84), Kent. Subs not used: McLaughlin, Itten, Stewart, King.
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Bain, Kenny, Ajer, Welsh, Taylor; Brown (Soro 60), McGregor; Forrest (Christie 60), Turnbull, Elyounoussi; Edouard (Johnston 75). Subs not used: Barkas, Bitton, Griffiths, Ajeti, Ralston, Laxalt.